Did Satan Understand Christ's Mission?

A recent Bible Study at Salem Chapel heard a question asked which has excerised my brain for some weeks. Did Satan understand Christ's mission before it happened/while it was happening? Furthermore, did the general angel population understand God’s plan of salvation before its conclusion? A former regular at the chapel took this up, so I have given it further thought. 

Firstly, did humans understand Christ's mission? writes the Apostle Paul:

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:7-10

This text would suggest not, ascribing ignorance even to our race's greatest members. However, we know that God did reveal it to some, at least in part, such as the prophets Daniel, who spoke of Messiah being cut off, and Isaiah, whose vision of the suffering Servant described one who would endure grief for others’ salvation. These were recorded hundreds of years before the Christ was born, and were certainly available to Jews, Babylonians and Persians for poring over and pondering.

Could angels have understood the mission? They see earthly affairs from the perspective of eternity, and are far wiser than the wisest human. Perhaps they could not, because we are told that they desired to look into these things:

Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. 1 Peter 1:10-12

The ‘looking into’ is present tense, however, which would suggest an on-going fascination with God’s great salvation plan, rather than a neccesary ignorance of it before it occurred (whereas the prophets are spoken of in the past tense, they being now dead and their enquiries concluded). Certainly, the angels who appeared to the shepherds atop the hills of Bethlehem were aware of the outcome of Christ’s birth, if not the method of death and resurrection which wrought it. This might indicate an understanding of sorts.

Two passages are of particular relevance with regards to Satan:

From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Matthew 16:21-23

He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. John 13:25-27

In the first passage, Satan wanted Christ not to die, in the second, Satan wanted Him to die, even becoming complicit in his betrayal. So what did Satan want exactly: to prevent the crucifixion or participate in it? Was he ignorant like everybody else of Christ's mission, until it was too late to do anything about it?

In one sense, it was always going to be too late to do anything about it, seeing as the crucifixion was God’s decreed will from the foundation of the world. Nevertheless, he does appear to try and thwart it, such on the occasion of the wilderness temptations when he sought to sully Christ’s record by making Him an idolater, and in Peter’s admonishment above, in which Satan attempted to deflect Him from His goal. Satan hates humans almost as much as he hates the God who made them: their redemption he would surely seek to prevent. Scripture gives us no clear answer regarding Satan’s familiarity with Christ’s mission, for its primary focus is urging humans to understand it, who may yet be redeemed. Nevertheless, Bible students may admit the following facts:

Satan is highly intelligent and can correctly calculate and estimate future events;

Satan is highly knowledgeable, and is familiar with the scriptures, which he quotes during the third temptation. We may infer that he knows the scriptures better than we, and, though he hates their author, he believes them, though with trembling;

Satan knew that God would deliver believing humans from his power and sin’s penalty at considerable cost to Himself. He is present in Eden when God’s judgement is pronounced, and it was to the serpent, rather to Adam or Eve, that the first promise of deliverance was made:

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

He would also have been familiar with the text from Daniel, already mentioned:

And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself (9:26)

(‘cutting off’ being a Hebraism for death). Satan was surely aware of Psalm 22:16:

For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet

and Zechariah 12:10:

And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.

I therefore think that Satan knew both God’s objective and the method by which He would achieve it. This would certainly account for why he sought to prevent or hinder it; he had no desire to see humans liberated and restored to a right relationship which he had sought four thousand years previously to sever. How, then, do we account for Satan’s apparent complicity and cooperation in Christ’s crucifixion, such as his entering the Betrayer? Furthermore, the pagan Romans who performed the deed made the execution more painful and humiliating than it had to be. For example, they manufactured a crown of thorns which they delighted to place upon Christ’s head. I cannot prove that Satan inspired this act, but it does bear the hallmarks of his cruelty and malice, and was performed by men more accustomed to his influence than some of the more God-fearing Jews. So I suspect that Satan relished the opportunity to torture and kill the very One who created Him. He who said:

“I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High” (Isaiah 14:14)

-may now exercise horrible power and apparent prerogative against the Creator whose dignity and powers he envied. He who was expelled from heaven would enjoy expelling the Son of Man from earth; he who resented and hated God could now vent his rage in a way previously impossible. This opportunity for fury and malice surely blinded him to the crucifixion’s glorious achievement of rescuing God’s people. Like a serial killer who just cannot resist that next murder by which he is caught out, Satan’s rage and wrath prevented his more logical prevention of the crucifixion. His intelligence and scriptural knowledge were trumped by his lust for brutality.

The other possibility, of course, is that a fallen angel is not unlike a fallen man. Though intelligent and familiar with the scriptures, he did not believe them, nor expect their fulfilment. The original Lucifer, who beheld the glory of the One God, still foolishly and imprudently rebelled, cannot be expected to be wise and logical in his corrupted conduct thereafter, highly intelligent and cognisant though he may be.

So Satan either understood Christ’s passion, but his enjoyment of its cruelty and horror blinded him to its outcome, or his wisdom and intelligence fell short of understanding that which he refused to believe, much less yield to. Thankfully, our Saviour is as wise and intelligent as He is compassionate and gracious. 

The ancient prince of hell
hath risen with purpose fell;
strong mail of craft and power
he weareth in this hour;
on earth is not his fellow.

And let the prince of ill
look grim as e'er he will,
he harms us not a whit;
for why? His doom is writ;
a word shall quickly slay him.

-Martin Luther