Questions From Readers
At Hebrews 2:14, why is Satan called “the one having the means to cause death”?
In brief, Paul meant that Satan, personally or through his agents, can cause the physical death of humans. In harmony with that, Jesus called Satan “a manslayer when he began.”—John 8:44.
Misunderstanding may arise over Hebrews 2:14 because of the way some translations render it, saying that Satan has the “power of death” or the “power over death.” (King James Version; Revised Standard; New International Version; Jerusalem Bible) Such renderings could make it appear that Satan has unlimited ability to kill anyone he chooses. However, that is clearly not the case. If it were, he would very likely have wiped Jehovah’s worshipers off the face of the earth a long time ago.—Genesis 3:15.
The Greek expression rendered “power over death” in some translations and “means to cause death” in the New World Translation is “kraʹtos tou tha·naʹtou.” Tou tha·naʹtou is a form of the expression meaning “death.” Kraʹtos basically means “force, strength, might.” According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, it denotes “the presence and significance of force or strength rather than its exercise.” Hence, in Hebrews 2:14, Paul does not imply that Satan has the ultimate power over death. Rather, he is pointing to Satan’s ability or potential to cause death.
How does Satan exercise “the means to cause death”? In the book of Job, we read of one instance that may be somewhat exceptional. The account says that Satan used a storm to ‘cause the death’ of Job’s children. Notice, though, that Satan could do this only with God’s permission, which was given because a vital issue was being decided. (Job 1:12, 18, 19) Indeed, Satan was not able to kill Job himself. Permission for that was withheld. (Job 2:6) This shows that even though, on occasion, Satan has been able to cause the death of faithful humans, we need not fear that he can snuff out our lives at will.
Satan has also caused death through human agents. Thus, many Christians have died for their faith, some being murdered by enraged mobs or unjustly executed on the orders of government officials or corrupt judges.—Revelation 2:13.
Further, Satan has sometimes caused death by playing on human weaknesses. Back in the days of Israel, the prophet Balaam counseled the Moabites to entice the Israelites “to commit unfaithfulness toward Jehovah.” (Numbers 31:16) That resulted in the death of more than 23,000 Israelites. (Numbers 25:9; 1 Corinthians 10:8) Today, some likewise fall for Satan’s “machinations” and are lured into immorality or other ungodly practices. (Ephesians 6:11) True, such ones usually do not immediately lose their lives. But they do risk losing out on everlasting life, and in that way Satan causes their death.
Even though we recognize Satan’s potential to cause harm, we need not fear him unduly. When Paul said that Satan had the means to cause death, he also said that Christ died in order that he “might bring [Satan] to nothing . . . and that he might emancipate all those who for fear of death were subject to slavery all through their lives.” (Hebrews 2:14, 15) Yes, Jesus paid the ransom and thus freed believing mankind from slavery to sin and death.—2 Timothy 1:10.
Of course, it is sobering to think that Satan has the means to cause death, but we are confident that Jehovah can undo any harm caused by Satan and his agents. Jehovah assures us that the resurrected Jesus will “break up the works of the Devil.” (1 John 3:8) In Jehovah’s power, Jesus will resurrect the dead and thus nullify death itself. (John 5:28, 29) Eventually, Jesus will dramatically expose the limits of Satan’s power by abyssing him. Satan is finally consigned to everlasting destruction.—Revelation 20:1-10.