Questions From Readers
What did Jesus mean when he told his disciples: “I began to behold Satan already fallen like lightning from heaven”?
Jesus had just chosen 70 disciples, and he “sent them forth by twos in advance of him into every city and place to which he himself was going to come.” When the 70 returned, they were rejoicing over the success of their mission. “Lord, even the demons are made subject to us by the use of your name,” they said. At that point, Jesus said: “I began to behold Satan already fallen like lightning from heaven.”
At first, it may seem that Jesus was referring to an event that had already taken place. Yet, 60 years after Jesus uttered the above words, the aged apostle John employed similar language, writing: “Down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him.”
When John penned those words, Satan still resided in heaven. How do we know? Because Revelation is a book of prophecy, not history. (Revelation 1:1) Hence, as of John’s day, Satan had not yet been cast down to earth. In fact, evidence shows that this did not occur until shortly after Jesus was enthroned as King of God’s Kingdom in 1914.*
Why, then, did Jesus speak of Satan’s ouster from heaven as if it had already happened? Some scholars suggest that Jesus was rebuking his disciples for showing improper pride. They believe that he, in effect, was saying: ‘You triumphed over the demons, but do not become boastful. Satan became prideful, and that led to his quick downfall.’
We cannot be dogmatic in the matter. However, it seems more likely that Jesus was rejoicing with his disciples and referring to Satan’s future demise. More than any of his disciples, Jesus was well aware of the vicious animosity of the Devil. Imagine the joy Jesus felt at hearing that the powerful demons were being made subject to his imperfect human disciples! This subjugation of the demons was just a foregleam of the future day when Jesus, as Michael the archangel, would battle with Satan and cast him from heaven to earth.
When Jesus said that he beheld Satan “already fallen,” he was evidently underscoring the certainty of Satan’s fall. This is similar to other Bible prophecies that speak of future events in the past tense. For example, note the mixing of past and future tenses in the prophecy concerning the Messiah at Isaiah 52:13–53:12. Jesus likely was expressing confidence that Satan’s ouster from heaven would take place according to His Father’s purpose. Jesus was also certain that in God’s due time, Satan and his demons would be abyssed and later destroyed once and for all.
See Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, chapter 10, and Revelation