John 8: 44 speaks of the Devil as “a murderer from the beginning”. Whom did he murder?
The vain boast of the Jews that God was their father brought a scathing reply from the Lord: “Ye are of the devil, as [your] father, and ye desire to do the lusts of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks falsehood, he speaks of what is his own; for he is a liar and its father” (v44). What, then, did the Lord mean by saying that the Devil was a murderer?
As portrayed by Christendom, the Devil is a wonderful being who, like God, is omnipresent. He is viewed as by the side of every nursery cot, and at the elbow of every human being, making the babies naughty and the adults vicious. What nonsense! Human nature being what it is, no devil is needed to make people sin. Nor can we account for the countless murders of human history by blaming the Devil, as if that is what is meant by the phrase “a murderer from the beginning”. Murder, generally, is incited not by the Devil, but by the lusts and passions of evil men.
Nevertheless, the Devil is described as a murderer and that “from the beginning”. The beginning of what? Certainly not the beginning of his existence, for he was created perfect in his ways (see Ezek. 28: 15). The first murder was that of Abel, and since it was because Cain “was of the wicked one” (1 John 3: 12) that he slew his brother, we may safely say that Satan was behind it. It would be foolish, however, to imagine that it was from this point on that the Devil took on the character of ‘murderer’. Such a characterisation relates not only to the outward actions, but to the intents of the heart (Mark 7: 21). Furthermore, the Lord links Satan’s murderous character with the truth which he refused and the lie of which he is the father. I think the “beginning” refers to that moment when Satan rebelled against the divine purpose that there should be a firstborn who was to “have the first place in all things” (Col. 1: 18). That was the truth he refused. His lie is his own claim to that place of pre-eminence (Is. 14: 14, Mat. 4: 9). Thus in order to thwart the divine purpose, his murderous intent has, ever since, been directed at Christ.
It was for this reason that the Devil brought about the ruin of our race (Gen. 3: 1–7). Again, it was in order to stamp out the house of David from which Christ would come that he incited Athaliah to destroy “all the royal seed” (2 Kings 11:1), and still later at the nativity he got Herod to destroy “all the boys which [were] in Bethlehem” (Matt. 2: 16). It is in this sense that the Devil has been a “murderer from the beginning”––it is a specific campaign of hatred directed against Christ. Rev. 12: 3, 4 portrays him as a great red dragon waiting to devour the child Jesus.
It is at the temptation that the Devil’s “lie” was plainly revealed. There he claimed to meet the Lord on more than equal terms. Having given Him that mysterious vision of earthly sovereignty, “the devil said to him, I will give thee all this power, and their glory; for it is given up to me, and to whomsoever I will I give it. If therefore thou wilt do homage before me, all [of it] shall be thine” (Luke 4: 6, 7). This was the bold assertion of his claim to be the true first–born, the rightful heir of creation, and hence entitled to the worship of mankind. He is the one to whom Scripture accords the title “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4: 4) though not because the Supreme has delegated it, but because the world yields it to him.
As the temptation revealed the Devil as the liar, Gethsemane and Calvary revealed him as the murderer. On many an occasion, the Devil had incited men to kill Christ (John 5: 16, 5: 18, 7: 1 etc.) but had failed. Now the time was come. Thus we read that “Satan entered into Judas” (Luke 22: 3)––a phrase unparalleled in Scripture. Having thus engineered the Lord’s betrayal, and incited the Jews to have Him killed (Luke 23: 23, Acts 3: 15), the Devil must have thought his victory was assured. However, in the language of Rev. 12, just as the great red dragon was about to devour the offspring of the woman, “her child was caught up to God and to his throne” (v5).
Although the Devil’s purpose was frustrated at the cross, he remains unsubdued, and the Scriptures tell of a supreme effort to come when all the power of evil will be unleashed to “make war with the Lamb” (Rev. 17: 14), and to thwart the coming triumph of Christ. God’s purpose will, however, triumph over Satan’s and so Christ will reign, while the pretender to the throne is cast into the abyss (Rev. 20: 3).