Does Satan Punish Sinners in Hell?

I was recently asked about a verse of a hymn which I quoted on this blog, written by John Newton:

 

Satan, who now tries to please you,

Lest you timely warning take,

When that word is past, will seize you,

Plunge you in the burning lake:

Think, poor sinner,

Thy eternal all's at stake!


The hymn suggests a belief that is common enough: that the devil is hell’s chief superintendent and will spend eternity torturing sinners. This is not, I believe, a role assigned to Satan by the Bible. Rather, it is a dim memory of the Greek god Hades, whom early Christian writers may have used as inspiration when trying to understand Satan.

For example, the god Hades (not to be confused with his kingdom, which goes by the same name) is a morose individual, equipped with pitchfork and sits on an ebony throne under the earth. He was disliked by the other gods, even by his brother Zeus who took charge of the heavens, and Poseidon, the sea. His realm was the world of the dead, whose residents were his subjects. Some he punished, others he let alone. The Furies, or infernal goddesses, who made it their business to punish those who broke their oaths, were responsible to him.

That Satan is often depicted with a trident and clearly has common ground with Hades is irrelevant. Only what scripture reveals is a reliable guide to Satan’s roles and activities. Torturing sinners is not listed among them. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus says of wicked human beings: ‘Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels’. Hell is not Satan’s kingdom; he does not dwell there and he seeks to avoid taking up residence therein. When Satan is in hell, I’m sure he’ll have punishment enough of his own to bear without assisting in the punishment of others. Satan does not live in hell, though his sentence there will come soon enough. When the Lord asks him his whereabouts in the book of Job, he answers “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it”.

There are, however, a few snippets of scripture which may indicate that Satan plays such a role as the hymn indicates, though I am not overly convinced by their application. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul is discussing a church member who is having a sexual relationship with his stepmother. Paul says ‘deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.’ The implication is that Satan will be loosed upon him, perhaps causing a great suffering as he did with Job. The apostle’s, and therefore God’s, intention, is that this suffering might force this fallen saint to repent and be truly saved. Would this be Satan’s intention? No, not at all. Like a roaring lion, he simply seeks to devour and destroy. God, though, is able to use his menacing for his own end and glory. This verse is not, however, talking about hell and the final state; it does not vindicate Newton’s lyric, though it does suggest that God can employ Satan’s wounds for His own glory.

The second idea comes from Isaiah 10. God explains that he is sending the wicked Assyrians to punish the people of Israel:

 

“Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger

And the staff in whose hand is My indignation.

I will send him against an ungodly nation,

And against the people of My wrath

I will give him charge,

To seize the spoil, to take the prey,

And to tread them down like the mire of the streets.

Yet he does not mean so,

Nor does his heart think so;

But it is in his heart to destroy,

And cut off not a few nations.

 

Emphasis mine. The Assyrians did not know that they were the instruments of an angry God, but they were. Yet in chapter 30 of the same book, the Assyrians themselves were reserved for judgment:

 

For through the voice of the Lord

Assyria will be beaten down,

As He strikes with the rod.

And in every place where the staff of punishment passes,

Which the Lord lays on him,

It will be with tambourines and harps;

And in battles of brandishing He will fight with it.

 

How can God use a nation to punish others and then punish them? Well, a sovereign God can use evil and wickedness for His own glory and honour. It is therefore possible that God will use wicked Satan to punish wicked humans in hell; the principle is found in scripture. The Bible, however, does not specifically teach this, and therefore I believe that good John Newton is mistaken.