When Jesus' followers celebrate demons being subject to their command, Jesus reaffirms their authority over the enemy (Luke 10:19), but he reminds them that being destined for heaven is a greater blessing (10:20). Jesus also says he was watching Satan fall from heaven (10:18). Jesus could be referring to the primeval fall of Satan, but many scholars think that he is describing what he saw as his disciples cast out demons. That is, as the message of the kingdom was advancing, Satan was retreating and losing some of his hold over the world.
Luke 13:16 suggests that Satan also causes some illnesses, even in people who have done nothing wrong to invite his activity. As Peter said, Jesus healed those oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38). This reminds us that when we seek people's physical welfare—whether through prayer, medicine, or other means—we are working for something that God cares about. Evils will not all be destroyed before Jesus' return, but in the meantime we work against them, whether they harm people physically or spiritually.
Luke also indicates that Satan acts in a spiritual manner. Besides snatching the message from people's hearts (Luke 8:12), Satan wants to destroy the faith of Jesus' disciples (22:31). Jesus prayed for Peter and encouraged him that when his faith was restored, he needed to take the lead in restoring his fellow disciples (22:32). Peter's restoration probably began when he witnessed the risen Lord (24:12, 34). While Satan tried to destroy all the disciples, he actually entered Judas (22:3).
Satan in John
John is the only Gospel that doesn't elaborate on Jesus' casting out demons. Instead, John focuses on the Cross as the moment when Satan is cast down (John 12:31; 16:11). While Satan is still active in the world, he can no longer accuse us before God, and his doom is inevitable (Rev. 12:9–12). While John doesn't include Jesus' temptation, he reports that Satan has no power in Jesus' life (John 14:30).
In the Lord's Prayer in Matthew, we pray for protection from the evil one; in John, Jesus himself also prays for our protection from the evil one (John 17:15). Just like Matthew, John indicates that those who do not embrace God's message are aligned with the devil (8:44). And elsewhere, John says that the entire world is in the devil's grip (1 John 5:19).
John focuses more on Satan's work through Judas than do the Synoptics. As in Luke, Satan moves Judas to betray Jesus (John 13:2, 27). And while Jesus calls Peter "Satan" in Mark and Matthew, he calls Judas a "devil" in John (6:70–71).
In the Gospels, we see an elaboration on what the Old Testament and ancient Jewish tradition say about Satan: he is an accuser, deceiver, and tempter. I fully respect Downey's reasons for omitting Satan from the SonofGod film. You can certainly tell the gospel story without including him. Nevertheless, Satan remains an uncomfortable part of the gospel story, and knowing who he is and what he does helps us to fully understand what Christ has done for us. Jesus endured temptation, triumphed over evil, and brought life and healing to those who were oppressed. And because Christ was triumphant, securing the devil's inevitable demise, we can have confidence that Christ will reign victorious in our lives. Christ's Word is more powerful that Satan's deception. Satan and his demons will try to make life as difficult for us as possible—just as he made the road to Golgotha as difficult as possible for Jesus, by moving Judas to betray him. But in Christ, we can endure the difficulties of life and withstand the devil's schemes. This is our reality, until Christ returns.
Craig S. Keener is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary.