Christian tradition holds that Satan started out as a beautiful angel who fell from divine grace. Yet, the core of this tradition comes not from Israel’s Scriptures, but from post-biblical interpretation of Isaiah and Ezekiel. While the Hebrew Bible may not support Satan’s traditional backstory, the New Testament mentions Satan falling from heaven. Many readers presume that the descriptions of the devil in Luke and Revelation recall the pre-Edenic expulsion of Lucifer. However, the Gospel and the Apocalypse refer to two separate satanic falls—not in the primeval past, but in Jesus’ present and his followers’ future.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his apostles, “I saw Satan fall (πεσόντα; pesónta) like lightning from heaven” (Lk 10:18). Though it may be tempting to read this statement as a recollection of a pretty angel’s primordial plunge, Luke’s context aligns Jesus’ words with the present apostolic mission (not with a bygone satanic confrontation). At the start of Luke 10, seventy-two apostles spread the gospel of God’s coming kingdom (see 10:1-9). Afterwards, these evangelists “return with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’” (10:17). It is to this declaration of current apostolic dominion over demons that Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall light lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority… over all the power of the enemy” (10:18-19). In other words, the devil’s descent occurred because of the apostles’ exorcisms; the Messiah saw Satan fall from heaven while the apostles were out doing their anti-demonic duty.
Revelation also speaks of Satan being cast from heaven: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer a place for them in heaven (οὐδὲ τόπος εὑρέθη αὐτῶν ἔτι ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ; oudè tópos heuréthe auton epi en to ourano). And the great dragon was thrown down (ἐβλήθη; ebléthe), that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan” (Rev 12:7-9; cf. 20:2-3). While some New Testament readers cite these verses to support the story of Satan’s prehistoric fall, this heavenly vision describes a future event. The divine battle that John foresees comes immediately after a sign appears in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun gives birth to a child and avoids the dragon’s grasp while she is nourished in the wilderness (see Rev 12:1-6). This woman represents Israel, the child is the Messiah, and her escape from Satan alludes to God’s protection of Jesus’ followers. It is only after the birth of the Messiah and his movement that Satan is cast down from heaven; according to Revelation, the devil’s decisive defeat will occur at some point in the future. Thus, the New Testament does not recount Satan’s traditional past, but rather highlights the destruction of demonic forces both during and after Jesus’ earthly ministry.