Can the devil personally be tempting me and a lot of other people at exactly the same time?
Your question leads us to look in Scripture and examine how the devil measures up against God and people.
The devil and people
The Bible makes it clear that the devil has abilities superior to those of human beings. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:11,12).
While the devil’s abilities are superior to people’s, they are inferior to God’s. That brings us to the heart of your question.
The devil and God
As an angel—a fallen one at that—the devil is not omniscient. Only God is. The devil cannot read hearts and minds. Only God can do that (1 Kings 8:39). The devil operates by observing patterns in people’s lives. As an angel, the devil is not omnipresent either. Only God the Creator is (Psalm 139:7-10). Much as the human soul, housed in a body, can occupy only one space at one time, so the devil, a spirit being, can occupy only one space at one time.
Yet, as a spirit being without a body, the devil is able to move from one space to another faster than human beings can. And move he does. Job 1:7 and Job 2:2 describe the devil “roaming throughout the earth.” 1 Peter 5:8 states that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Roaming and prowling describe the devil’s non-stop activity as he moves from person to person, seeking to destroy them.
Although the devil himself may not be able to “tempt you and a lot of other people at the same time,” he has helpers to assist him in his dastardly work (Matthew 25:41). The devil’s minions flit about from person to person on seek-and-destroy missions.
The devil and the sinful nature
More than having helpers in the form of evil angels, we need to recognize that the devil has an accomplice inside each person. The sinful nature, passed on from generation to generation, is hostile toward God (Romans 8:7). The sinful nature hates anything good and godly and desires to do the devil’s bidding (Galatians 5:19-21). So while the devil is not personally present in the life of a Christian 24/7, his ally, the sinful nature, is.
With intermittent and ever-present enemies like these, what is a Christian to do? “Put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13) and launch a counter-offensive. That is not a foolhardy course of action. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7) is God’s instruction and promise. More than that, we combat our sinful nature through daily contrition and repentance, and we build up the new self through God’s gospel in Word and sacrament (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Finally, we remember that our spiritual enemies are not permanent. Our sinful nature is limited to life on this earth. Satan is an enemy whom Jesus has already defeated (Genesis 3:15). One day, he will lose all ability to tempt us (Revelation 20:10).
Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019
- Q&A: Why is Pontius Pilate immortalized in our creeds?
- Q&A: How does remembering my baptism help with the guilt I carry?
- Q&A: Do parts of the Bible teach works righteousness?
- Q&A: How can I overcome my struggle with lust and pornography?
- Q&A: How should I help my child struggling with same-sex attraction?
- Q&A: Should Christians pray to saints?
- Q&A: Is anger sinful?
- Q&A: How can parents encourage adult children who wander from the faith?
- Q&A: Does the doxology belong in the Lord’s Prayer?
- Q&A: Is God fair?
- Q&A: When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” what are we praying for?
- Q&A: How can I better manage what God has given me this year so that I glorify him?
- Q&A: What are ways to glorify God besides singing in church?
- Q&A: I have no special gifts, and I mess up all the time. Does God really need me?
- Q&A: How do I overcome the feeling that my life has no purpose and I don’t make a difference?
- Q&A: My friend died and was not a professing Christian. What do I say to the family?
- Q&A: How can my mother and I forgive my father for being unfaithful and causing my parents to divorce?
- Q&A: Why were demon possession, gifts of healing, and gifts of tongues more prevalent in biblical times?
- Q&A: Is Christianity the only religion that gives the certainty of heaven?
- Q&A: If people go to hell, isn’t it their fault because God gave them free will and they rejected him?
- Q&A: Why are the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension important for the disciples and for us?
- Q&A: Can you explain Jesus’ words to the wailing women he met on his way to be crucified?
- Q&A: What if spouses don’t “love” each other anymore?
- Q&A: Is it wrong to have a cross with Jesus’ body on it?
- Q&A: Is our time of grace really unchangeable?
- Q&A: I know that we are saved by grace apart from works, but how can it be that easy?
- Q&A: Are there degrees of glory in heaven as a reward for good works?
- Q&A: Do Lutherans take the Bible literally and teach millennialism?
- Q&A: Are there different interpretations of the Bible?
- Q&A: How can we be sure the Bible includes what God originally gave us?
- Q&A: Why does it seem like Christianity is so negative?
- Q&A: How can I explain how Jesus’ resurrection is possible and if the Bible is reliable?
- Q&A: Is it okay to live together if we are planning to get married?
- Q&A: How is the Bible God’s Word?
- Q&A: Were we “created to make a difference”?
- Q&A: Am I being judgmental if I point out someone’s sin?
- Q&A: Do I need to read the Bible to have a relationship with God?
- Q&A: Can a Christian vote for a political candidate who supports abortion?
- Q&A: Does God really care?
- Q&A: Does it really matter how God made the world?
- Q&A: Does God send people to hell?
- Q&A: Is death natural?
- Q&A: How can I forgive and forget?
- Q&A: Does God help those who help themselves?
- Q&A: How can we say that the Old Testament God is the same as the New Testament God?
- Q&A: Is Jesus the only way to get to heaven?
- Q&A: Doesn’t God want me to be happy?
- Light for our path: Does God hate us?
- Light for our path: What kind of comfort can you give someone when a loved one commits suicide?
- Light for our path: What does a submissive wife in a Christian marriage look like?
- Light for our path: Is it a sin to want to die from a terminal illness?
- Light for our path: What advice can you give about applauding in church?
- Light for our path: Can you please explain Matthew 5:20?
- Light for our path: What is karma?
- Light for our path: Can the devil personally be tempting me and a lot of other people at exactly the same time?
- Light for our path: Does the word Easter refer to Ishtar, the Babylonian fertility goddess?
- Light for our path: What role does emotion play in contrition?
- Light for our path: What does the white stone in Revelation 2:17 mean?
- Light for our path: Is the cross symbol now anti-Christian?
- Light for our path: Were Joseph and Mary engaged or married when Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy?