2-4 The Jewish Satan

We have explained above that the word ‘satan’ means ‘adversary’, and ‘the devil’ refers to a false accuser. These terms can at times refer to individuals or organizations who are in some sense ‘adversarial’, and sometimes in the New Testament they refer to the greatest human adversary, i.e. sin. Close study of the New Testament makes it apparent that quite often, the ‘satan’ of both the Lord Jesus and His first followers was related to the Jewish system which so opposed Him and the subsequent preaching of Him. Not only did the Jews crucify God's Son, but the book of Acts makes it clear that it was Jewish opposition which was the main adversary to Paul's spreading of the Gospel and establishment of the early church (Acts 13:50,51; 14:2,5,619; 17:5-9,13,14; 18:6,12-17; 21:27-36; 23:12-25). Paul speaks of the Jewish opposition as having "killed both the Lord Jesus and the [first century Christian] prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins" (1 Thess. 2:13-16). These are strong words, and must be given their full weight in our assessment of the degree to which the Jews were indeed a great 'Satan' to the cause of Christ in the first century. Three times did the synagogues beat Paul with 39 stripes (2 Cor. 11:24). The Jews of Antioch in Pisidia cursed Paul and his message (Acts 13:45 Gk.), drove him out of the city, and then travelled 180 km. to Lystra to oppose his preaching there. The Jews of Iconium and Jerusalem sought to "stir up" the Gentile authorities against Paul (Acts 14:2,5). No wonder that Paul's midrash on Hagar and Sarah speaks of the earthly Jerusalem as being the persecutors of God's true children (Gal. 4:29). Many of Paul's letters were occasioned by Jewish false teaching and attempts at infiltrating the churches he had founded (Gal. 2:4). In Rome and elsewhere, the Jews sought to curry favour with the Romans by reporting Christian activity to the authorities (1).

The Jewish scribes and Pharisees tried hard "that they might find an accusation against" the Lord Jesus (Lk. 6:7); their false accusation of Him was especially seen at His trials. Pilate's question to them "What accusation do you bring against this man?" (Jn. 18:29) shows the Jews as the ultimate false accusers of God's Son. For it was because of their playing the ultimate role of the Devil, the false accuser, that the Son of God was slain. No wonder the ideas of 'devil' and 'satan' are often associated with the Jewish system's opposition of Christ and His people. The same Greek word for 'accuser' is five times used about Jewish false accusation of Paul in an attempt to hinder His work for Christ (Acts 23:30,35; 24:8; 25:16,18).

The Jewish Opposition To The Gospel As Satan
There are a surprising number of references to the Jewish system, especially the Judaizers, as the Devil or Satan:
- Lk. 6:7 describes the scribes and Pharisees as looking for every opportunity to make false accusation against the Lord Jesus. They were indeed ‘the Devil’- the false accuser.
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 relates how “the Jews...have persecuted us (Paul and his helpers)...forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles”. But Paul goes on to say in :18: “wherefore we would have come unto you ...once and again but Satan hindered us”. The “Satan” refers to Jewish oppositions to the Gospel and Paul’s planned preaching visit to Gentile Thessalonica.
- “False apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ... Satan himself is transformed into and Angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:13-14) probably refers to the subtle Judaist infiltration of the young churches with ‘double-agents’ (see 2 Cor. 2:11; Gal. 2:4-6; Jude 4).
- The false teachers “crept in” just as a serpent creeps (Jude 4).
- The same group may have been in Christ’s mind in His parable of the tares being sown in the field of the (Jewish) world by the Devil, secretly (cp. “false [Jewish] brethren unawares brought in”, Gal. 2:4-6).
- The parable of the sower connects the Devil with the fowls which take away the Word from potential converts, stopping their spiritual growth. This would aptly fit the Judaizers who were leading the young ecclesias away from the word, and the Jews who “shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men...neither suffer ye them that are entering (young converts) to go in” (Mt. 23:13). The Devil takes away the word of the Kingdom, “lest they should believe and be saved” (Lk. 8:12).
- The Jewish religious leaders were “of your father the Devil” (Jn. 8:44). This would explain the Lord’s description of Judas as a devil (Jn. 6:70) because the Jewish Devil had entered him and conceived, making him a ‘devil’ also. In the space of a few verses, we read the Lord Jesus saying that "the devil" is a "liar"- and then stating that His Jewish opponents were "liars" (Jn. 8:44,55). These are the only places where the Lord uses the word "liar"- clearly enough He identified those Jews with "the devil". If the Jews’ father was the Devil, then ‘the Devil’ was a fitting description of them too. They were a “generation of (gendered by) vipers”, alluding back to the serpent in Eden, which epitomized “the Devil”; “that old serpent, called (i.e. being similar to) the Devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9). In the same way as Judas became a devil, the “false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-Jesus” is called a “child of the Devil” (Acts 13:6,10), which description makes him an embodiment of the Jewish opposition to the Gospel. There are many other connections between the serpent and the Jews; clearest is Isaiah 1:4 “A people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters”. This is describing Israel in the language of Genesis 3:15 concerning the serpent. Thus the Messianic Psalm 140:3,10 describes Christ reflecting that His Jewish persecutors “have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders’ poison is under their lips...let burning coals fall upon them: let them be cast into the fire” (referring to the falling masonry of Jerusalem in A.D. 70?). It is quite possible that Christ’s encouragement to the seventy that “I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy” (Lk. 10:19) has a primary reference to their ability to overcome Jewish opposition during their preaching tour.
- Psalm 109 is a prophecy of Christ’s betrayal and death (:8 = Acts 1:20). The satans (“adversaries”) of the Lord Jesus which the Psalm speaks of (:4,20,29) were the Jews, and the specific ‘Satan’ of v. 6 was Judas.
- Michael the Archangel’s disputing with the Devil about the body of Moses could refer to the Angel that led Israel through the wilderness contending with a group of disaffected Jews (Jude  9).
- “The synagogue of Satan” who were persecuting the ecclesias (Rev. 2:9; 3:9) makes explicit the connection between ‘Satan’ and the Jewish opposition to the Gospel.

Judas, Satan And The Jews
Psalm 55:13-15 foretells Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. It speaks of Judas in the singular, but also talk of his work as being done by a group of people - the Jews, in practice: “It was you, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together... let death seize them (plural), and let them go down quickly into hell” (cp. Judas’ end). Likewise the other prophecy of Judas’ betrayal also connects him with the Jewish system: “My own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread (cp. Jesus passing the sop to Judas), has lifted up his heel against me. But You, O Lord, be merciful unto me, and raise me up, that I may requite them” (Ps. 41:9,10). Thus Judas is being associated with the Jews who wanted to kill Jesus, and therefore he, too, is called a devil. Both Judas and the Jews were classic ‘devils’ due to their surrender to the flesh. This is further confirmed by a look as Psalm 69. Verse 22 is quoted in Romans 11:9,10 concerning the Jews: “Let their table become a snare before them... let their eyes be darkened”. The passage continues in Psalm 69:25: “Let their habitation be desolate; let none dwell in their tents”. This is quoted  in Acts 1:16,20 as referring specifically to Judas, but the pronouns are changed accordingly: “This scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas... Let his [singular] habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take”.

In the parable of the sower, "the Devil" is defined as the enemy of Christ the sower / preacher of the Gospel- and His enemies initially were the Jews. These were the "tares" sown amongst the wheat which Christ had sowed, “things that offend” - and Paul warns of the Judaizers who caused offences and schisms to wreck the ecclesia (Rom. 16:17; 14:13; Mt.13:38,39,25,41). This is all confirmed by Jesus in Mt. 15: 12-13 describing the Pharisees as plants “which My Heavenly Father hath not planted” which were to be rooted up at the judgment. It was this 'Devil' that put the idea of betraying Jesus into Judas’ mind, so Lk. 22:2,3 implies: “the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him...then entered Satan into Judas”. The Jewish ideas of an immediate Kingdom and the throwing off of the Roman yoke by a glamorous, heroic Messiah entered Judas, and caused him to become so bitter against Christ’s Messiahship that he betrayed Him. The Jewish Satan, in the form of both the Jews and their ideology, was at work on the other disciples too: “Satan hath desired to have you” (plural), Jesus warned them. Especially was the High Priest seeking Peter: “I have prayed for thee (Peter - singular), that thy faith fail thee not” (Lk. 22:31-32). Could Jesus foresee the Satan - High Priest later arresting Peter and his subsequent trial in prison? Throughout the first century, the Jewish and Roman Devil sought “whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). It is possible that 1 John 2:14 has reference to the Jewish Satan or “wicked one” trying to especially subvert young converts, both in years and spiritual maturity, just as it had tried to subvert the disciples during Christ’s ministry: “I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one”.   

The Law Of Moses As An Adversary
When Peter was explaining how Christ had opened a way for Gentiles to obtain salvation without the Law, he reminded them how Jesus had healed “all that were oppressed of the Devil” (Acts 10:38). ‘Oppressed’ meaning literally ‘held down’, is he hinting that the people Jesus helped had been hopelessly in bondage to the Jewish system? “Him that had the power of death, that is the Devil” (Heb. 2:14) may refer to the fact that “the sting (power) of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the (Jewish) Law” (1 Cor.15: 56; see also Rom. 4:15; 5:13;7:8, where ‘the Law’ that gives power to sin is clearly the Jewish law). Bearing in mind that the ‘Devil’ often refers to sin and the flesh, it seems significant that ‘the flesh’ and ‘sin’ are often associated with the Mosaic Law. The whole passage in Heb. 2:14 can be read with reference to the Jewish Law being ‘taken out of the way’ by the death of Jesus [A.V. “destroy him that hath the power of death”]. The Devil kept men in bondage, just as the Law did (Gal. 4:9; 5:1; Acts 15:10; Rom. 7:6-11). The Law was an ‘accuser’ (Rom. 2:19,20; 7:7) just as the Devil is.

One of the major themes of Galatians is the need to leave the Law. “You have been called unto liberty... for all the Law is fulfilled... this I say then (therefore), Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit... so that you cannot do the things that you would”. It was because of the Law being impossible for sinful man to keep that is was impossible to obey it as one would like. “But if you be led of the Spirit, you are not under the Law”. This seems to clinch the association between the Law and the flesh (Gal. 5:13-18). The same contrast between the Spirit and the Law/flesh is seen in Rom. 8:2-3: “The Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the Law (of Moses / sin) could not do...”. The Law indirectly encouraged the “works of the flesh” listed in Gal. 5:19-21, shown in practice by the Jews becoming more morally degenerate than even the Canaanite nations, and calling forth Paul’s expose of how renegade Israel were in Romans 1.

Gal. 5:24-25 implies that in the same way as Jesus crucified the Law (Col. 2:14) by His death on the cross, so the early church should crucify the Law and the passions it generated by its specific denial of so many fleshly desires: “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections (AVmg. “passions”) and lusts”. This seems to connect with Rom. 7:5: “When we were in the flesh the motions (same Greek word, ‘affections’ as in Gal. 5:24) of sins, which were by the Law, did work in our members”. “When we were in the flesh” seems to refer to ‘While we were under the Law’. For Paul implies he is no longer ‘in the flesh’, which he was if ‘the flesh’ only refers to human nature.

Hebrews 2:14 states that the Devil was destroyed by Christ’s death. The Greek for ‘destroy’ is translated ‘abolish’ in Ephesians 2:15: “Having abolished [Darby: 'annulled'] in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances”. This would equate the Devil with the enmity, or fleshly mind (Rom. 8:7) generated by the Mosaic Law; remember that Hebrews was written mainly to Jewish believers. The Law itself was perfect, in itself it was not the minister of sin, but the effect it had on man was to stimulate the ‘Devil’ within man because of our disobedience. “The strength of sin is the Law” (1 Cor.15:56). “Sin taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me (Rom. 7: 8,11). Hence “the wages of sin (stimulated by the Law) is death” (Rom. 6:23). It is quite possible that the “sin” in Romans 6, which we should not keep serving, may have some reference to the Mosaic Law. It is probable that the Judaizers were by far the biggest source of false teaching in the early church. The assumption that Paul is battling Gnosticism is an anachronism, because the Gnostic heresies developed some time later. It would be true to say that incipient Gnostic ideas were presented by the Judaizers in the form of saying that sin was not to be taken too seriously because the Law provided set formulae for getting round it. The Law produced an outward showing in the “flesh”, not least in the sign of circumcision (Rom. 2:28).

There is a frequent association of sin (the Devil) and the Mosaic Law throughout Romans (this is not to say that the law is itself sinful- it led to sin only due to human weakness). A clear example of this is found in Romans 6 talking about us dying to sin and living to righteousness, whilst Romans 7 speaks in the same language about the Law; thus “he that is dead is free from sin... you (are) dead indeed unto sin” (Rom. 6:7,11) cp. “You also are become dead to the Law” (Rom. 7:4). Other relevant examples are tabulated below:

Romans 6 (about sin)

Romans 7 (about the Law)

“Sin shall not have (anymore) dominion over you: for you are not under the Law” (:14)

“The Law has dominion over a man... as long as he lives” (:1 )

“Dead indeed unto sin” (:11)

“She is loosed from the Law” (:2).

“Being then made free from sin” (:18)

“She is free from that Law” (:3)

“As those that are alive from the dead... you have your fruit unto holiness” (:13,22), having left sin.

“You should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (:4), having left the Law.

“Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin (as a result of sin having dominion over you)" (:13,14).

“When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members... but now we are delivered from the law” (:5,6).

“Therefore... we also should walk in newness of life” (:4).

“We should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” of the Law (:6).


“For what the Law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin” (Rom. 8:3) - cp. Gal. 4:4-5, “Made of a woman, made under the Law (cp. “sinful flesh”) to redeem them that were under the Law”. The drive of Paul’s argument in its primary context was that having been baptized, they should leave the Law, as that was connected with the sin from which baptism saved them- it introduced them to salvation by pure grace in Jesus. The Hebrew writer had the connection in mind when he wrote of “carnal ordinances” (Heb. 9:10; 7:16). To be justified by the Law was to be “made perfect by the flesh”, so close is the connection between Law and flesh (Gal. 3:2,3). “We (who have left the Law)...  have no confidence in the flesh (i.e. the Law). Though I might also have confidence in the flesh...” (Phil. 3:3-4), and then Paul goes on to list all the things which gave him high standing in the eyes of the Law and the Jewish system. These things he associates with “the flesh”.

Paul summarizes this argument in Colossians 2, where, in the context of baptism and warning believers not to return to the Law, he argues “If ye be dead with Christ (in baptism) from the rudiments of the (Jewish) world, why, as though living in the (Jewish) world, (i.e. under the Law) are ye subject to (Mosaic) ordinances...?” (:20). The Law was “against us... contrary to us” (Col. 2:14) - hence it being called an adversary/Satan. The natural Jews under the Mosaic Law, as opposed to the Abrahamic covenant regarding Christ, are called “the children of the flesh” (Rom. 9:8). Similarly those under the Law are paralleled with the son of the bondwoman “born after the flesh” (Gal. 4:23). Paul reasons: “Are you now made perfect by the flesh?... received you the Spirit by the works of the Law?” (Gal. 3: 2,3) - as if “by the flesh” is equivalent to “by the law”. Now we can understand why Heb. 7:16-18 speaks of “The Law of a carnal commandment... the weakness and unprofitableness thereof”. Not only is the word “carnal” used with distinctly fleshly overtones elsewhere, but the law being described as “weak” invites connection with phrases like “the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41). Rom. 8:3 therefore describes the Law as “weak through the flesh”.

"The god of this world"
If Scripture interprets Scripture, “the god of this world (aion)” in 2 Corinthians 4: 4 must be similar to “the prince of this world (kosmos)” (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Both the Jewish age [aion] and kosmos ended in A.D. 70. In the context, Paul has been talking in 2 Cor. 3 about how the glory shining from Moses’ face blinded the Israelites so that they could not see the real spirit of the law which pointed forward to Christ. Similarly, he argues in chapter 4, the Jews in the first century could not see “the light of the glorious (cp. the glory on Moses’ face) gospel of Christ” because they were still blinded by “the god of this world” - the ruler of the Jewish age. The “prince” or “God” of the “world” (age) was the Jewish system, manifested this time in Moses and his law. Notice how the Jews are described as having made their boast of the law…made their boast of God (Rom. 2:17,23). To them, the Law of Moses had become the god of their world. Although the link is not made explicit, there seems no reason to doubt that “the prince of this world” and “Satan” are connected. It is evident from Acts (9:23-25,29-30; 13:50,51; 14:5,19; 17:5,13; 18:12; 20:3) that the Jews were the major 'Satan' or adversary to the early Christians, especially to Paul. Of course it has to be remembered that there is a difference between Moses’ personal character and the Law he administered; this contrast is constantly made in Hebrews. Similarly the Law was “Holy, just and good”, but resulted in sin due to man’s weakness - it was “weak through the flesh”, explaining why the idea of Satan/sin is connected with the Law. Because of this it was in practice a “ministry of condemnation”, and therefore a significant ‘adversary’ (Satan) to man; for in reality, “the motions of sins... were by the Law” (Rom. 7:5).

Jewish Opposition As "Satan" In Romans 16
The Jewish system ceased to be a serious adversary or Satan to the Christians in the aftermath of its destruction in A.D. 70, as Paul prophesied: “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20). A closer study of the context reveals more precisely the mentality of the Judaizer Satan. Satan being bruised underfoot alludes back to the seed of the serpent being bruised in Genesis 3:15. The Jews are therefore likened to the Satan-serpent in Genesis (as they are in Jn. 8:44), in their causing “divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned” (Rom. 16:17). Other details in Romans 16 now fall into the Genesis 3:15 context: “they that are such serve... their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (:18). The fair speeches of the Judaizers were like those of the serpent. Instead of ‘Why not eat the fruit?’ it was ‘Why not keep the law?’. Is. 24:6 had earlier made the point that because of the sin of the priesthood “therefore hath the curse devoured the earth / land”; “their poison is like the poison of a serpent” (Ps. 59:4).

The tree of knowledge thus comes to represent the Law - because “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). The fig leaves which Adam and Eve covered themselves with also represented the Law, seeing they were replaced by the slain lamb. Their initially glossy appearance typifies well the apparent covering of sin by the Law, which faded in time. The fig tree is a symbol of Israel. It seems reasonable to speculate that having eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they made their aprons out of its leaves, thus making the tree of knowledge a fig tree. Both the tree and the leaves thus represent the Law and Jewish system; it is therefore fitting if the leaves were from the same tree. It is also noteworthy that when Christ described the Pharisees as appearing "beautiful" outwardly, he used a word which in the Septuagint was used concerning the tree of knowledge, as if they were somehow connected with it (Mt. 23:27).

It was as if the Judaizers were saying: ‘Yea, hath God said you cannot keep the law? Why then has He put it there? It will do you good, it will give you greater spiritual knowledge’. Colossians 2:3-4 shows this kind of reasoning was going on: “In (Christ) are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words”. Here is another allusion to the serpent. Because all spiritual knowledge is in Christ, Paul says, don’t be beguiled by offers of deeper knowledge. Thus Adam and Eve’s relationship with God in Eden which the serpent envied and broke is parallel to us being “in Christ” with all the spiritual knowledge that is there. Hence Paul warned Corinth: “I fear, lest... as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). The ‘simplicity in Christ’ was therefore the same as man’s relationship with God in Eden. So again we see the Judaist false teachers equated with the Satan-serpent of Genesis. Titus 1:10 and 2 Peter 2:1- 3 specifically define these men who used an abundance of words and sophistry as “they of the circumcision”, i.e. Jewish false teachers. Those in 2 Peter 2 are described as speaking evil of Angels (:12 cp. Jude 8) - in the same way as the serpent spoke evil of the Angelic commands given in Eden. It's been pointed out that there's an Aramaic pun which connects the serpent [hewya] with the idea of instruction [hawa] and also Eve, the false teacher of Adam [Hawah] (2).

Back in Romans 16, the Judaizer Satans/ adversaries are spoken of as serving “their own belly” (:18) like the serpent did. Maybe the serpent liked the look of the fruit and wanted to justify his own eating of it; to do this he persuaded Eve to eat it. Because he served his belly, he had to crawl on it. Similarly the Judaizers wanted to be justified in their own keeping of the Law, and therefore persuaded Eve, the Christian bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:1-3), to do the same. “Yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple (AVmg. “harmless”) concerning evil” (Rom. 16:19) - “be wise as serpents, (primarily referring to the Pharisees?) and harmless as doves”, Jesus had said (Mt. 10:16).  

The extent of the Jewish opposition to the Gospel of Christ is clearly discernible throughout the New Testament, even if one has to ‘read between the lines’ to perceive it. Through both direct and indirect allusion, the Jews are set up as the great ‘Satan’ or adversary to the Christian cause in the first century.  


(1) Eckhard Schnabel, Early Christian Mission (Downers Grove: I.V.P., 2004) Vol. 2 p. 1026.

(2) Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (Garden City: Doubleday, 1989) p. 30.

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