Satan and His Counterfeit Miracles, Signs, and Wonders

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The evidence for the existence and activity of Satan and demons in the Bible is formidable. Seven books in the Old Testament specifically teach the reality of Satan (Genesis, 1 Chronicles, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah). Every New Testament writer and 19 of the books refer to him (for example, Matthew 4:10; 12:26; Mark 1:13; 3:23,26; 4:15; Luke 11:18; 22:3; John 13:27). Jesus refers to Satan some 25 times.

Some people throughout church history have claimed that Satan is not a real person—an idea no doubt inspired by Satan himself. After all, if there is no real “enemy,” then certainly there will be no preparation for defense. And if there is no preparation for defense, then the enemy can attack at will and work his evil while remaining incognito.

The Scriptures are just as certain of Satan’s existence as of God’s existence. The Scriptures reveal that Satan is both a fallen angel and a genuine person. How do we know he is a person? Satan has all the attributes of personality—including mind (2 Corinthians 11:3), emotions (Revelation 12:17; Luke 22:31), and will (Isaiah 14:12-14; 2 Timothy 2:26). Not only that, but personal pronouns are used to describe him in the Bible (Job 1; Matthew 4:1-12). As well, Satan performs personal actions (Matthew 4:1-11; John 8:44; 1 John 3:8; Jude 9).

The Scriptures portray Satan as a created being who—though powerful and capable of performing “lying signs and wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9)—has definite limitations. Satan does not possess attributes that belong to God alone, such as omnipresence (being everywhere present), omnipotence (being all-powerful), and omniscience (being all-knowing). Satan is a creature, and as a creature he is lesser than (and is responsible to) the Creator. Satan can only be in one place at one time; his strength, though great, is limited; and his knowledge, though great, is limited.

Satan, though possessing creaturely limitations, is nevertheless pictured in Scripture as being extremely powerful and influential in the world. He is called the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31), “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). He is also said to deceive the entire world (Revelation 12:9: 20:3). He is portrayed as having power in the governmental realm (Matthew 4:8-9; 2 Corinthians 4:4), the physical realm (Luke 13:11, 16; Acts 10:38), the angelic realm (Jude 9; Ephesians 6:11-12), and the ecclesiastical (church) realm (Revelation 2:9; 3:9). Clearly, Satan is a being that Christians should be very concerned about.

Satan’s Vast Experience

It is critical that Christians realize that Satan has vast experience in bringing human beings down. In fact, his experience is far greater than that of any human being. As theologian Charles Ryrie puts it:

By his very longevity, Satan has gained a breadth and depth of experience which he matches against the limited knowledge of man. He has observed other believers in every conceivable situation, thus enabling him to predict with accuracy how we will respond to circumstances. Although Satan is not omniscient, his wide experience and observation of man throughout his entire history on earth gives him knowledge which is far superior to anything any man could have.[1]

Because of his vast experience, Satan has learned many wiles and tricks regarding how to deceive human beings. Some of his deceitful tricks no doubt relate to the counterfeit miracles he inspires. Christians are therefore urged to beware (1 Peter 5:8; 2 Corinthians 2:11).

Satan as the “Ape” of God

Augustine called the devil Simius Dei—“the ape of God.” Satan is the great counterfeiter.[2] He mimics God in many ways. A primary tactic Satan uses to attack God and His program is to offer a counterfeit kingdom and program.[3] This is hinted at in 2 Corinthians 11:14 which refers to Satan masquerading as an “angel of light.”

In what ways does Satan act as “the ape of God”? Consider:

  • Satan has his own church—the “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9).
  • Satan has his own ministers—ministers of darkness that bring false sermons (2 Corinthians 11:4-5).
  • Satan has formulated his own system of theology—called “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 2:24).
  • Satan’s ministers proclaim a counterfeit gospel—“a gospel other than the one we preached to you” (Galatians 1:7-8).
  • Satan has his own throne (Revelation 13:2) and his own worshipers (13:4).
  • Satan inspires false Christs and self-constituted messiahs (Matthew 24:4-5).
  • Satan employs false teachers who bring in “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).
  • Satan sends out false prophets (Matthew 24:11).
  • Satan sponsors false apostles who imitate the true (2 Corinthians 11:13).

In view of such mimicking, one theologian has concluded that “Satan’s plan and purposes have been, are, and always will be to seek to establish a rival rule to God’s kingdom. He is promoting a system of which he is the head and which stands in opposition to God and His rule in the universe.”[4]

Scripture indicates that Satan, as the “ape of God,” performs counterfeit signs and wonders. Indeed, 2 Thessalonians 2:9 tells us, “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders.” (More on this shortly.)

The World of Demons—“Hell’s Angels”

Satan is joined by a vast host of demons. Demons are “fallen angels” and are portrayed in Scripture as evil and wicked. They are designated “unclean spirits” (Matthew 10:1), “evil spirits” (Luke 7:21), and “spiritual forces of wickedness” (Ephesians 6:12). Such terms point to the immoral nature of demons.[5]

Scripture portrays demons as inflicting physical diseases on people such as dumbness (Matthew 9:33), blindness (12:22), and epilepsy (17:15-18). They also afflict people with mental disorders (Mark 5:4-5; 9:22; Luke 8:27-29; 9:37-42). They cause people to be self-destructive (Mark 5:5; Luke 9:42). They are even responsible for the deaths of some people (Revelation 9:14-19).

We must cautiously note that even though demons can cause physical illnesses, Scripture distinguishes natural illnesses from demon-caused illnesses (Matthew 4:24; Mark 1:32; Luke 7:21; 9:1; Acts 5:16). In the case of many healings by Christ in the New Testament, no mention is made of demons. As one theologian put it, “in Matthew, for example, no mention is made of demon exorcism in the case of the healing of the centurion’s servant (8:5-13), the woman with the hemorrhage of twelve years’ duration (9:19-20), the two blind men (9:27-30), the man with the withered hand (12:9-14), and those who touched the fringe of Jesus’ garment (14:35-36).”[6] Hence, every time you get sick, you must not presume you are being afflicted by a demon.

Presently, there are two classes or groups of demons. One group is free and active in opposing God and His people (Ephesians 2:1-3). The other group is confined. Ryrie explains:

Of those who are confined, some are temporarily so, while others are permanently confined in Tartarus (2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6). The Greeks thought of Tartarus as a place of punishment lower than Hades. Those temporarily confined are in the abyss (Luke 8:31; Rev. 9:1-3,11), some apparently consigned there to await final judgment, while others will be loosed to be active on the earth [during the future seven-year Tribulation period] (vs. 1-3,11,14; 16:14).[7]

As to why some fallen angels (demons) are permanently confined, it seems reasonable to infer they are being punished for some sin other than the original rebellion against God. Some theologians believe these angels are guilty of the unnatural sin mentioned in Genesis 6:2-4. Because of the gross depravity of this sin, they are permanently confined to Tartarus.[8]

The Work of Fallen Angels Among Unbelievers

Second Corinthians 4:4 indicates that Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers to the truth of the gospel. This passage indicates that Satan inhibits the unbeliever’s ability to think or reason properly regarding spiritual matters.[9] It would seem that one way Satan does this is by leading people to think that any way to heaven is as acceptable as another. Satan promotes the idea that one does not need to believe in Jesus as the only means to salvation.

Satan also seeks to snatch the Word of God from the hearts of unbelievers when they hear it (Luke 8:12). Demons, under Satan’s lead, seek to disseminate false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1). As well, they wield influence over false prophets (1 John 4:1-4) and seek to turn men to the worship of idols (Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:36-38). In short, fallen angels do all they can to spread spiritual deception.

The Work of Fallen Angels Among Believers

Fallen angels are also very active in seeking to harm believers in various ways. For example:

  • Satan tempts believers to sin (Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5).
  • Satan tempts believers to lie (Acts 5:3).
  • Satan tempts believers to commit sexually immoral acts (1 Corinthians 7:5).
  • Satan accuses and slanders believers (Revelation 12:10).
  • Satan hinders the work of believers in any way he can (1 Thessalonians 2:18).
  • Satan and demons seek to wage war against and defeat believers (Ephesians 6:11-12).
  • Satan sows tares among believers (Matthew 13:38-39).
  • Satan incites persecutions against believers (Revelation 2:10).
  • Demons hinder answers to the prayers of believers (Daniel 10:12-20).
  • Satan is said to oppose Christians with the ferociousness of a hungry lion (1 Peter 5:8).
  • Satan seeks to plant doubt in the minds of believers (Genesis 3:1-5).
  • Satan seeks to foster spiritual pride in the hearts of Christians (1 Timothy 3:6).
  • Satan seeks to lead believers away from “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
  • Demons seek to instigate jealousy and faction among believers (James 3:13-16).
  • Demons would separate the believer from Christ if they could (Romans 8:38).
  • Demons cooperate with Satan in working against believers (Matthew 25:41; Ephesians 6:12; Revelation 12:7-12).

What About Miracles?

Although Satan has great spiritual powers, there is a gigantic difference between the power of the devil and the power of God. First, God is infinite in power (omnipotent); the devil (like demons) is finite and limited. Second, only God can create life (Genesis 1:1,21; Deuteronomy 32:39); the devil cannot (see Exodus 8:19). Only God can truly raise the dead (John 10:18; Revelation 1:18); the devil cannot, though he will one day give “breath” (animation) to the idolatrous image of the antichrist (Revelation 13:15).

The devil has great power to deceive people (Revelation 12:9), to oppress those who yield to him, and even to possess them (Acts 16:16). He is a master magician and a super scientist. And with His vast knowledge of God, man, and the universe, he will perform “counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” through the antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:9, emphasis added; see also Revelation 13:13-14).

An excellent illustration of Satan’s counterfeit wonders is found in the Exodus account. In Exodus 7:10, for example, we read that Moses’s rod was turned into a snake by the power of God. Then, according to verse 11, Pharaoh “summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts.” The purpose of these acts, of course, was to convince Pharaoh that his magicians possessed as much power as Moses and Aaron, and it was unnecessary for Pharaoh to yield to their request to let Israel go. It worked, at least for the first three encounters (Aaron’s rod, the plague of blood, and the plague of frogs). However, when Moses and Aaron, by the power of God, brought forth lice from the sand, the magicians could not counterfeit this miracle. They could only exclaim, “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).

Biblical scholars differ whether Satan just does convincing tricks or genuine—albeit limited—miraculous works. Some scholars assert that the feats of Egypt’s magicians, inspired by Satan, were done by sleight of hand. Perhaps the magicians had enchanted the snakes so that they became stiff and appeared to be rods. When cast down upon the floor, they came out of their trance and began to move as snakes. Since Satan is the “father of lies” (John 8:44), Satan very well may have been pulling some kind of trick instead of performing a genuine miracle.

Other scholars say these were supernatural and miraculous acts of Satan who actually turned the rods of the magicians into snakes. Henry Morris, for example, believes the devil and demons may be able to perform some “Grade B” miracles. They may be capable of “great juggling of the world’s natural processes.…”[10] John MacArthur concludes that the antichrist’s Satan-empowered “miracles, signs, and wonders are false not in the sense that they are fakery but that they lead to false conclusions about who he is. They will cause people to believe the lie that he is a divine being and worship him.”[11]

Still others, like theologian John Witmer, believe Satan sometimes does tricks and sometimes does supernatural—albeit limited—miraculous works:

Some of these spectacles are mere trickery, spurious miracles. Others of them are truly supernatural events, but Satanic in origin and power, not divine. Remember that the Devil showed the Lord Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time” (Luke 4:5) and is able to transform himself “into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).[12]

Reformed theologian Charles Hodge, in his Systematic Theology, notes that whether Satan can perform a miracle hinges on how one defines “miracle”:

The question is, Are they to be regarded as true miracles? The answer to this question depends on the meaning of the word. If by a miracle we mean any event transcending the efficiency of physical causes and the power of man, then they are miracles. But if we adhere to the definition… which requires that the event be produced by the immediate power of God, they of course are not miracles.[13]

Whether Satan can perform Grade B miracles or whether his works are just impressive tricks, the scriptural evidence is undeniably clear that heavy-duty “Grade A” miracles can be performed only by God. Only God can fully control and supersede the natural laws He Himself created, though on one occasion, He did grant Satan the power to bring a whirlwind on Job’s family (Job 1:19). As the account of Job illustrates, all the power the devil has is granted him by God and is carefully limited and monitored (Job 1:10-12). Satan is “on a leash.” Satan’s finite power is under the control of God’s infinite power.

Discerning Between God’s Miracles and Satan’s Lying Wonders

Scripture gives us a key to discerning between the genuine miracles of God and the lying wonders of Satan. We find this key summarized in Deuteronomy 13:1-3:

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.

If a person claiming to perform a miracle of God is teaching false doctrine, we may assume without hesitation that this person’s “miracle” is not done in the power of God but is a lying wonder rooted in Satan. Norman Geisler notes that there are a variety of false teachings or activities that might be connected to a “counterfeit miracle” rooted in Satan:

Numerous evils are mentioned in the Bible, such as idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:19), immorality (Ephesians 2:2), divination (Deuteronomy 18:10), false prophecies (Deuteronomy 18:22), occult activity (Deuteronomy 18:14), worshipping other gods (Deuteronomy 13:1,2), deceptive activity (2 Thessalonians 2:9), contacting the dead (Deuteronomy 18:11,12), messages contrary to those revealed through true prophets (Galatians 1:8), and prophecies that do not center on Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:10).[14]

If the “miracle” confirms or supports any of the items listed above, it cannot be of the God of truth. God’s miracles are never connected to the kingdom of darkness.[15]

It is interesting to observe that whenever a serious question arose in biblical days as to which events were of God and which were of the devil, a contest would often follow in which God’s power triumphed over that of the devil. For example, God was clearly the victor in the contest between Him and the magicians of Egypt (recall that Moses’s snake swallowed that of the Egyptian sorcerers, Exodus 8:18-19). Likewise, Elijah was triumphant over Baal’s prophets on Mount Carmel when fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifices (1 Kings 18).[16]

Regardless of any powers the devil and his demons may seem to have, we can rest secure because Christ has defeated them (Hebrews 2:14-15; Colossians 2:15). Christ has provided all that is necessary for Christians to be victorious over all demonic forces (Ephesians 4:4-11; 1 John 4:4).

Go Deeper

  1. Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1978), p. 124.

  2. Charles C. Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1980), p. 94.

  3. Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1986), p. 147.

  4. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life, p. 124.

  5. Merrill F. Unger, Demons in the World Today (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1972), p. 28.

  6. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), p. 450.

  7. Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 159, insert mine; see also Unger, Demons in the World Today, pp. 15-16.

  8. See Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 159.

  9. Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), p. 297.

  10. Henry Morris, “Biblical Naturalism and Modern Science,” Bibliotheca Sacra, Logos Bible Software, electronic media.

  11. John MacArthur, New Testament Commentary, in Accordance Bible Software.

  12. John A. Witmer, “The Doctrine of Miracles,” Bibliotheca Sacra, Logos Bible Software, electronic media.

  13. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Logos Bible Software, electronic media, emphasis added.

  14. Norman L. Geisler, cited in Miracles Are Heaven Sent (Tulsa, OK: Honor Books, 1995), p. 10.

  15. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology.

  16. Geisler, cited in Miracles Are Heaven Sent, p. 10.

Dr. Ron Rhodes received his Th.M. and Th.D. degrees in systematic theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, graduating with honors. He is currently the president of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, an apologetics organization located in Texas.

The author of more than 60 books, with millions of books in print, Dr. Rhodes is a keynote speaker at conferences across the United States and Canada. As time permits, he also teaches at a number of seminaries, including Dallas Theological Seminary and Veritas Evangelical Seminary. He has been a guest on many national and regional radio and television programs, including the John Ankerberg Show. He and his wife, Kerri, reside in Texas.

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