A large percentage of the people in our country believe in a supernatural evil being whom the Bible generally refers to as either Satan or the Devil. And, there is widespread belief that he tries to tempt virtually everyone, including people who are generally righteous, to commit sins. Since there are billions of people in our world who might be persuaded to do his bidding at any particular time, Satan presumably would either need to be omnipresent or have many helpers to be able to tempt that many people even once during the course of a year, because there are less than 530 thousand minutes in an entire year. Therefore, if Satan spends an average of 30 seconds tempting each person he chooses to tempt, he can tempt only about one million people during a year, which is a lot of people, but only approximately one person out of every 7,000 in the world.
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 quote a non-biblical source that is using Scripture from a different version of the Bible.]
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 is described in Genesis 3. However, Satan is actually an angel, albeit an apostate (i.e., renegade) angel, who attempts to deceive people into believing that they are justified in doing whatever they need to do to fulfill their desires. The Bible states in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that “Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.”
With regard to this verse of scripture, 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.
John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible states in reference to 2 Corinthians 11:14,
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 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.
As previously mentioned, Satan is also often referred to as “the Devil.” In reference to a battle in heaven between the angels of God and the angels of Satan during what many Bible scholars refer to as the End Times, the climatic period on earth leading up to God’s final judgment of mankind, Revelation 12:9 states, “[T]he great dragon was cast out [of heaven], that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan. . . .” Similarly, Revelation 20:2 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 [i.e., Jesus Christ] has Beelzebub,’ and ‘By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.’” And, Luke 11:15 is very similar.
Also, many people believe that another name for Satan is Lucifer, an angel who 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, it would be helpful to define the term omnipresent. Webster’s Dictionary defines omnipresent as “present in all places at the same time.” Therefore, if Satan is omnipresent, he theoretically could be personally attempting to tempt several billion people every day. However, there is no indication in the Bible that Satan (or any other angel) has the ability to be omnipresent. Therefore, Satan cannot be in more than one place at any particular time.
But if Satan is not omnipresent, why is there so much evil in the world. We believe the primary reason for the pervasiveness of evil is that essentially all people are innately evil. We will not attempt in this article to discuss this particular condition. [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 impact on what a large number of other people ultimately do or don’t do. In other words, most people do not influence many others with regard to matters of right and/or wrong. Therefore, Satan is not likely to spend much, if any, of his time trying to tempt people who are not influential.
Satan personally 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.
Whether or not Satan may sometimes get personally involved when he wants to limit the ability of certain individuals to spread the message of how people can have eternal salvation is uncertain. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, the Apostle Paul tells those 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. . . .
We need to mention that, with the exception of people who are possessed by one or more demons, people have free will to resist the temptations or evil influences of Satan and his angels. Nevertheless, because of the inherently evil human nature of people, both Christians and non-Christians eventually yield to many of these temptations.
Demon possession is a somewhat different matter. If a person becomes possessed by one or more demons, that person no longer has free will. Their thoughts and actions are controlled by the demon(s) that possesses them.
However, 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 (i.e., possessed) by Satan’s demons. Thus, it is only after a person genuinely trusts in Jesus Christ as their Savior (i.e., after they become a true Christian) that they are indwelled by the Holy Spirit whose presence will protect that person from being possessed by any evil beings.
Whether he is called Satan, the Devil, or Beelzebub, the angel to whom these names apply is an apostate angel. In any case, there is no indication in the Bible that he or any other angel, whether they be good or evil, has the ability to be omnipresent. And, if Satan does not have the ability to be omnipresent, he cannot regularly tempt people all over the world.