A relatively high percentage of the people in our country believe in a supernatural evil being whom the Bible generally refers to as Satan or the Devil. And, there is widespread belief that Satan tries to tempt virtually everyone to commit sins.
In our attempt to determine who Satan is and whether or not he is omnipresent, we will consider a number of scriptures from the Bible. [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we are quoting a source that uses a different translation.]
Who Is Satan?
Satan made his first appearance in human history when he assumed the form of a serpent (i.e., a snake) and tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, as recorded in Genesis 3:1-15. However, in his usual form, Satan is an angel, albeit a renegade angel, who attempts to deceive people into believing that they are justified in doing almost anything that is necessary for them to be able to satisfy their desires. And, for Satan to persuade people to do so, the Bible states in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that “Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.”
With regard to 2 Corinthians 11:14, Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible states,
For Satan himself is transformed … – That is, he who is an apostate angel; who is malignant and wicked; who is the prince of evil, assumes the appearance of a holy angel. . . . The phrase “an angel of light,” means a pure and holy angel, light being the emblem of purity and holiness. Such are all the angels that dwell in heaven; and the idea is, that Satan assumes such a form as to appear to be such an angel.
[W]e are not to expect that Satan will appear to man to be as bad as he is. He never shows himself openly to be a spirit of pure wickedness; or black and abominable in his character; or full of evil and hateful.
Also, in reference to the same scripture, John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible states,
Satan, the enemy of mankind, sometimes appears . . . as he did to Eve in the garden, and to Christ in the wilderness; and by such appearances he often imposes on mankind; pretends the greatest friendship, when he designs nothing but ruin; and under a notion of good, either honest, or pleasant, or profitable, draws on into the commission of the greatest evils; and, under a show of truth, introduces the most notorious falsehoods and errors. . . .
And, John Calvin’s Commentaries on the Bible explains 2 Corinthians 11:14, as follows:
[W}hen Satan tempts us to evil, he does not profess to be what he really is. For he would lose his object, if we were made aware of his being a mortal enemy, and opposer of our salvation. Hence he always makes use of some cloak for the purpose of insnaring [sic] us, . . . but rather makes it his endeavor to appear as an angel. Even when he tempts us to gross crimes, he makes use, nevertheless, of some pretext that he may draw us, when we are off our guard, into his nets.
Thus, Satan is not actually an angel, but not an angel of light (i.e., a holy angel) as he depicts himself. Instead, he is an angel of darkness, whose constant objective is to entice people to do what he wants them to do, which necessitates that they engage in behavior that the Bible regards as contrary to God’s moral commandments.
Revelation 12:9 mentions a battle in heaven between the angels of God and the angels of Satan that will take place during a period that many Bible scholars refer to as the End Times, the climatic period on the earth that leads up to God’s final judgment of mankind. This scripture states, “[T]he great dragon was cast out [of heaven], that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan. . . .” Revelation 20:2 also indicates that the Devil and Satan are the same being.
Several other scriptures suggest that another name for Satan is Beelzebub. In Matthew 12:24, the Pharisees said about Jesus Christ, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” Likewise, Mark 3:22 states, “[T[he scribes . . . said, ‘He [Jesus Christ] has Beelzebub,’ and ‘By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.’” And, Luke 11:15 is very similar.
A number of people believe that another name for Satan is Lucifer, an angel that was banished from heaven. The basis for their belief is probably Isaiah 14:12, which says, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations!” However, most authoritative sources on the Bible, including Strong’s Concordance, The NIV Bible, and most Bible commentaries, agree that the name Lucifer is a reference to a particular king of Babylon – probably, Nebuchadnezzar.
Is Satan Omnipresent?
Before discussing whether or not Satan is omnipresent, we want to define what we mean when we mention the term omnipresent in this article. According to Webster’s Dictionary, omnipresent means “present in all places at the same time.” Thus, if Satan is omnipresent, he theoretically could be personally tempting several billion people every day.
Since Satan is a spirit being, it seems reasonable to believe that he can appear anywhere at any time. However, insofar as we can determine, the Bible provides no compelling reason to believe that Satan has the ability to be present at more than one place at any particular time. Also, consider this: If Satan is an angel who was banished from heaven, as many Christians believe the Bible indicates, and if he does have the ability to be omnipresent, then apparently all angels have the ability to be omnipresent, which indicates that God’s ability to be omnipresent is not unique.
Therefore, because Satan is not omnipresent, he is not able to tempt most of the people in the world, much less the entire population, even just once during any year, since there are only about 31.5 million seconds in a year and there are almost eight billion people in our world as of 2021. Thus, Satan can tempt only slightly more than one million people during the course of an entire year, assuming that he spends an average of about 30 seconds each time he tempts someone. Although one million is a lot of people, it is only about one person out of every 8,000 in the world.
But, can’t Satan’s angels (aka demons) tempt many additional millions, or even several billions, of people? The answer to this question is that the Bible does not provide any support for the hypothesis that demons try to tempt people. However, the Bible does indicate that demons may possess (or indwell) some people. And, if a person becomes possessed by a demon, that person no longer has free will. Their thoughts and actions are controlled by the demon that possesses them. On the other hand, because all true Christians are indwelled by the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 5:5; and Ephesians 1:13-14), they cannot also be indwelled by a demon.
So, if Satan is not omnipresent and, therefore, cannot tempt most people, and his demons do not even try to tempt anyone, why is there so much evil in the world? We believe the primary reason for the pervasiveness of evil is that, because of the carnal human nature of all human beings, every person has an inclination to do evil things. [For a discussion of innate evil in people, click on “Is Every Person Innately Evil?”]
In any case, what most people do or don’t do does not have much influence what a large number of other people ultimately do or don’t do with regard to matters of right and/or wrong. Therefore, there is no logical reason for Satan to spend much, if any, of his time trying to tempt people who are not likely to have a negative influence on other people.
Certainly, Satan personally unsuccessfully tempted Jesus Christ to sin (see Matthew 4:1-10 and Luke 4:1-12). And, there is reason to believe that Satan also personally influenced the evil actions of people who caused Jesus to be crucified. For instance, Luke 22:3 says, “Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.” Subsequently, in the same chapter, Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is recorded.
On the other hand, it is uncertain whether or not Satan sometimes gets personally involved when he wants to limit the ability of certain individuals to spread the message of how people can have eternal salvation. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18, the Apostle Paul tells the people to whom he is writing, “[W]e wanted to come to you . . . but Satan hindered us.” Although this scripture seems to indicate that Satan personally prevented Paul from being able to visit the Christians in Thessalonica, the Bible commentaries we checked express the belief that it was not necessarily Satan himself who hindered Paul.
In regard to 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Calvin says,
[W]henever the wicked molest us, they fight under Satan’s banner, and are his instruments for harassing us. More especially, when our endeavors are directed to the work of the Lord, it is certain that everything that hinders proceeds from Satan. . . .
However, with the exception of people who are possessed by a demon, every person has free will to resist the evil influences of other people. Nevertheless, because of their inherently carnal nature, many supposedly “normal” people – both Christians and non-Christians – often yield to such evil influences.
Whether he is called Satan, the Devil, or Beelzebub, the angel to whom these names apply is an apostate angel, and there is no indication in the Bible that he or any other angel, whether they are good or evil, has the ability to be omnipresent. Furthermore, because Satan is not omnipresent, it is impossible for him to be able to tempt more than a small percentage of the people in the world during the course of a year. And, the Bible provides no reason to believe that any of Satan’s angels (or demons) even try to tempt anyone, although they may indwell some people who are not Christians.
[Note: Some people may question whether Ephesians 6:12 contradicts what we have stated about Satan’s ability to negatively influence the behavior of most people, including Christians. The Appendix that follows addresses this matter.]
Does Ephesians 6:12 Contradict Any of Our Conclusions Regarding Satan?
Before we attempt to answer this question, we will quote Ephesians 6:12 according to the New King James Version of the Bible, which provides the following translation:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of [a]the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
To determine whether or not Ephesians 6:12 contradicts what we have stated with regard to the ability of Satan and his demons to negatively influence the behavior of people, we have consulted a number of Bible commentaries, including those that follow.
Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible says with regard to Ephesians 6:12,
For we wrestle – Greek, “The wrestling to us;” or, “There is not to us a wrestling with flesh and blood.” . . . The Greek word used here . . . denotes a “wrestling;” and then a struggle, fight, combat. Here it refers to the struggle or combat which the Christian has to maintain – the Christian warfare.
Not against flesh and blood – Not with people. . . . The apostle [Paul] does not mean to say that Christians had no enemies among men that opposed them . . . ; but that their main controversy was with the invisible spirits of wickedness that sought to destroy them. They were the source and origin of all their spiritual conflicts, and with them the warfare was to be maintained.
But against principalities – There can be no doubt whatever that the apostle alludes here to evil spirits. Like good angels, they were regarded as divided into ranks and orders, and were supposed to be under the control of one mighty leader. . . . The word “principalities” refers to principal rulers, or chieftains.
Powers – Those who had power, or to whom the name of “powers” was given.
Against the rulers of the darkness of this world – The rulers that preside over the regions of ignorance and sin with which the earth abounds. . . . “Darkness” is an emblem of ignorance, misery, and sin. . . .
Yet in maintaining the warfare, the struggle will be with such portions of that kingdom as we come in contact with and will actually relate:
(1) to our own sinful propensities – which are a part of the kingdom of darkness;
(2) with the evil passions of others – their pride, ambition, and spirit of revenge – which are also a part of that kingdom;
(3) with the evil customs, laws, opinions, employments, pleasures of the world – which are also a part of that dark kingdom;
(4) with error, superstition, false doctrine – which are also a part of that kingdom; and,
(5) with the wickedness of the pagan world – the sins of benighted nations – also a part of that kingdom. Wherever we come in contact with evil – whether in our own hearts or elsewhere – there we are to make war.
Against spiritual wickedness – “The spiritual things of wickedness;” but the allusion is undoubtedly to evil spirits, and to their influences on earth.
In reference to the same scripture, John Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible declares,
Not against flesh and blood. The meaning is, that our difficulties are far greater than if we had to fight with men. . . . [O]ur enemies are such as no human power can withstand. By flesh and blood the apostle denotes men, who are so denominated in order to contrast them with spiritual assailants.
Against principalities, against powers. He [Paul] calls them . . . princes of the world; but he explains himself more fully by adding — of the darkness of the world. The devil reigns in the world, because the world is nothing else than darkness. Hence it follows, that the corruption of the world gives way to the kingdom of the devil; for he could not reside in a pure and upright creature of God, but all arises from the sinfulness of men. By darkness, it is almost unnecessary to say, are meant unbelief and ignorance of God, with the consequences to which they lead.
By calling it wickedness, he denotes the malignity and cruelty of the devil, and, at the same time, reminds us that the utmost caution is necessary to prevent him from gaining an advantage. For the same reason, the epithet spiritual is applied; for, when the enemy is invisible, our danger is greater.
Adam Clarke Commentary states with regard to Ephesians 6:12,
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood – Our wrestling or contention is not with men like ourselves. . . .
Against principalities – [B]eings of the first rank and order in their own kingdom.
Powers – Authorities, derived from, and constituted by the above.
The rulers of the darkness of this world – The rulers of the world; the emperors of the darkness of this state of things.
Spiritual wickedness – [H]ighly refined and sublimed evil; disguised falsehood in the garb of truth; Antinomianism in the guise of religion.
By the spiritual wickedness in heavenly places, . . . we are to understand different orders of evil spirits, who are all employed under the devil, their great head, to prevent the spread of the Gospel in the world, and to destroy the souls of mankind.
And, in reference to the same scripture, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible says,
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood T]heir enemies are such as here described: not “flesh and blood”; frail mortal men. . . .
but against principalities, against powers; by whom are meant not civil magistrates, or the Roman governors . . ., and may be said to be the rulers of the darkness of this world, or of the dark Heathen world, and were in high places, and were of wicked and malicious spirits, against the people of Christ; yet these cannot be opposed to flesh and blood, or to men, since they were such themselves; and though they were in high, yet not in heavenly places; and the connection with the preceding verse shows the contrary, the enemy being the devil, and the armour spiritual; wherefore the devils are here designed, who are described from their power, rule, and government.
and against the rulers of the darkness of this world; that is, over wicked men in it, who are in a state of darkness itself; and so Satan is called the prince, and god of the world. . . .
against spiritual wickedness in high places; or wicked spirits, as the devils are, unclean, proud, lying, deceitful, and malicious; who may be said to be in “high” or “heavenly places”; not in places super celestial, or in the highest heavens, in the third heaven, where God, angels, and saints are; but in the aerial heavens.
The aforementioned Bible commentaries and others that we have consulted provide no reason to believe that Ephesians 6:12 contradicts anything that we have stated about the ability of Satan to tempt most people. However, Satan and his demons do influence certain people, especially those in key positions (e.g., political leaders), causing them to engage in evil behaviors that adversely affect many other people, including Christians.