Is Satan the Ruler of Hell?

Modern folklore presents Satan as the ruler of the underworld. He stands on a high cliff bathed in the red light of infernal flames and oversees the torments of the damned. He sends his demons out into the world to accomplish his abominable purposes. He is the lord of the underworld. Or is he? What does the Bible say is the current role of Satan?

Satan does not rule hell. Hell is not a kingdom. Hell is a prison. Satan is not the warden of the underworld, like a Christian version of the Greek god Hades. Nor is Satan the top dog in hell, like a gang leader running a prison from the inside. Satan’s relationship to hell is that of a convict out on bail waiting for sentencing.

Satan is not yet in hell. At this time he is free and roams the earth. “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).

Satan does not rule in hell, but he does have great authority. Satan is the chief of the fallen angels. Jesus speaks of “The devil and his angels”. Revelation 12 speaks of Satan being cast out of heaven “and his angels were cast out with him.” Satan is represented as the greatest of the rebellious angels. The Bible hints at a hierarchy of leadership among fallen angels (Ephesians 6:10; Colossians 1:16), but it is silent on how Satan exercises his supremacy over the other fallen angels.

Satan is also called “the prince of the power of the air”. (Ephesians 2:2) Satan has a significant power over the affairs of men. Satan’s rule is not limited to Satanists or those who have sold their soul to the devil. All the unsaved are described as under the kingdom of darkness with Satan as the spirit actively at work in them. Because of mankind’s sin, Satan exercises holds great authority and influence in this earth.

Despite his great power Satan is not the ultimate ruler of the affairs of earth. God remains sovereign over all things- including Satan. The devil does no more than he is allowed to do. Though Satan is a rebel bent on opposing God he is, in fact, accomplishing God’s purposes. Satan is the enemy of God who is still subject to God.

Satan is not God’s equal or opposite. Satan is the first of sinners, the chief of rebels and the father of lies. He is a vicious, powerful creature, but creature he remains. How can the creature become as great as the Creator? Satan is greatly inferior to God and must yield to the commands of God.

Though Satan is not in hell he will one day be cast into the lake of fire. “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10) The Lake of Fire is not his domain of rule but his place of punishment. Satan’s end will be an eternity of suffering the unending wrath of God.

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Is Hell really eternal?

One of the most difficult doctrines in Christianity is the Biblical teaching about hell. The classic teachings on hell describe a place of intense suffering, a place of fiery torment and a place of unending judgment. The hell described in the Bible is a horrific place. Any right thinking person recoils at the thought of anyone undergoing such horrible torture. For many the worst part of hell is the unending nature of it’s torments. The doctrine of an eternal hell has prompted people throughout history to search for other ways of explaining hell that won’t be so terrible. Some have taught that God will not really send anyone to hell. Many teach that God will only send the worst of the worst to hell. A number of groups teach that most of those who suffer in hell will only do so for a limited amount of time. Still others deny hell even exists. Unfortunately, for those who claim to believe the Bible, hell is described in such a way that its realities cannot be denied. Consider a few passages:

Revelation 14:9-11
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

Revelation 20:10
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

2 Thessalonians 1:9
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power

Matthew 25:41
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:

Matthew 25:46
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

For those who believe in an eternal heaven the doctrine of eternal hell is a necessity. The Bible could not be more plain- Hell is eternal. The same words used to describe the length of heaven’s joy are also used to describe the length of hell’s suffering. Both are said to be “everlasting”, “eternal” and “forever”. One cannot change the meaning of these words when speaking of hell without also changing their meaning in relation to heaven. The righteous will enjoy heavenly bliss for the same eternity that the lost endure hell’s torment. Scripture offers no hint that the souls of the condemned cease to exist at some point in the future. All the Bible says about hell declares it to be a place of unending, eternal torment in which the condemned will consciously endure physical and spiritual agony.

Despite the horrors of hell, God is not cruel and pitiless. In His mercy God has provided a means of salvation. He has promised that those who trust Jesus alone for salvation from sin will be forgiven of all guilt and made righteous. Hell is a place of judgment built for Satan and the demons that follow him and into which all who refuse to obey the gospel will be cast. Those who do not believe are already condemned, but if any turn to Jesus for salvation he will escape condemnation and be given eternal life.