How much power does Satan have? And where does that power come from?
It's been said that the Devil only has as much power over us as we allow him. To most, such a statement seems to indicate that the Evil one and his angels can only do that which we mortals allow him to do. When put that way, it would appear that Satan is fairly powerless. Yet, with such an understanding, we greatly underestimate the power and authority which Satan has at his disposal to lead us down to hell.
Before we can understand Satan's power, we must first understand God's power. To members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that the priesthood is the source all of power. However, we define the priesthood as the authority to act for and in behalf of God, our Eternal Father. All blessings, ordinances, acts, and presiding authority relating to the kingdom of God comes from the power invested in the priesthood of God. As such, those who perform these actions without this authority are not recognized by God as having any saving value.
But what about those who act for and in behalf of Satan? Where does their power and authority come from? The answer is obvious; from Satan himself. Whenever someone performs an evil act, perpetrates an evil deed, or executes an evil plan, it is recognized and approved by the Devil. Thus, those who willingly do that which is acceptable to the Devil are operating under the direction and influence of his power and authority. As such, they are priests unto the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4).
For those who think that this is a stretch of the English language or a mischaracterization of Satan's power, let's look at a few examples. We know that God has a priesthood by which He governs all things. Does the Devil try to imitate that priesthood by which he too seeks to govern all things? Why shouldn't he? If for no other reason, it would be a great way to confuse people searching for the truth.
In every culture, both past and present, there have always been priests who represent "god". The Egyptians had priests as part of their religious organization. So did the Greeks, the Romans, the Babylonians, and almost every other ancient civilization. Did each of them hold the true priesthood of God? Not in the least. They were all counterfeits, imitating or impersonating that which is the true priesthood of God.
In today's society we see many religious churches, both Christian and non-Christian, who have a priesthood as part of their faith. Although these people may be sincere in following God, yet, as Latter-day Saints, we believe that their priesthood does not have the power to truly save because it is not recognized by God. As such, no matter how good and wonderful these priests may be, their actions, blessings, ordinances and presiding authority are not recognized by God as having any saving influence.
Does that mean that all of these priesthoods are those of the Devil? Absolutely not! Many of them are instituted by good men seeking to find God but who lack the proper knowledge to find and understand the true nature of God's power. But there can be no doubt that some priesthoods do have evil as their basic foundation. Ancient priests who performed human sacrifices are one example of a Satanic priesthood that imitated the true sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Another example of those who hold the priesthood of Satan are priests who use their religious authority to subjugate and unrighteously dominate others.
In several ages and cultures, priests have had enormous power to perform evil. This is especially true among the priests of pagan gods. In the Book of Abraham we read of an incident where, "this priest had offered upon this altar three virgins at one time who were the daughters of Onitah.... These virgins were offered up because of their virtue; they would not bow down to worship gods of wood or of stone, therefore they were killed upon this altar" (Abraham 1:11).
But it can also involve anyone who uses religion to promote their own form of wickedness. The evil priests of King Noah as found in the Book of Mormon provide us with a good example of this. Although they held the priesthood of God, they acted contrary to the ways of the Lord and in full harmony with the doctrines of Satan. Thus, the manner in which they used their priesthood they acted as agents of the Devil.
In all of these cases, people use religion as the vehicle through which they exercise their unholy rule. The Book of Mormon refers to this as practicing priestcraft, which is defined as: "men [who] preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion" (2 Nephi 26:28). Jesus included this practice in a list of evil behavior consisting of "all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations" (3 Nephi16:10). I think it could safely be said that anyone performing any of these acts is following the ways of Satan.
But a person doesn't have to be formally ordained to hold the priesthood of Satan. Remember, the definition of the priesthood is the authority to act for and in behalf of.... in this case, the Devil. All those who willing allow themselves to perform evil are acting for and in behalf of the Evil one, whether by directly invoking Satan's name or not.
We also believe there is only one true priesthood of God. Although there may be two main divisions and several offices within each division, still they each belong to one priesthood. This is a critical concept to keep in mind. Wherever and whenever the priesthood of God is found, it is always the same. The priesthood of God in America is identical to that which is found in Europe, Africa, or the Orient. It is the same priesthood which the Jews held in the time of Moses, King David, and Jesus. It is the same priesthood which Abraham, Melchechidek, Noah, Enoch and Adam possessed. No matter when or where we find the priesthood of God, all blessings, ordinances, acts and presiding positions performed by its authority are always the same. And that's because God's words are based on eternal truth. Since truth never changes, God never changes. His actions are always constant and He is always consistent. He doesn't tell one group of people one thing and then tells another group something different.
Satan, on the other hand, is the father of lies (2 Nephi 9:9). Therefore, what he tells one group of people may very well be different from what he tells another group. He changes his story to suit the needs of those whom he seeks to destroy. To some he will "rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good. And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well--and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell (2 Nephi 28:20,21). To some he will say that Zion has fallen and needs to be redeemed, and thereby lead people into apostasy. To others he will teach that religion is for fools and will convince them to forsake God all together.
Unlike God, those who seek to work for and in behalf of Satan are not united under one religion or one philosophy. They can be found in many different activities. They can be found in politics expressing one persuasion, in business expressing a contrary opinion, in scientific circles offering their own secular theories, and in education espousing a wide variety of ideas. Although no two of these may agree with each other, still it is possible for some from each walk of life to be advocating, promoting and championing ideas that originate with Satan. As such, for all intents and purposes, they are acting in the capacity of ministers from Satan, preaching for doctrine the commandments of men, often times mingling the philosophies of the world with the teachings of the scriptures in an effort to mislead those who are sincerely searching for God.
The concept of multiple conflicting priesthoods is not an unusual situation. In the time of the Roman Empire, there were many gods, such as Cupid, Diana, Hercules, Jupiter, Mercury, Neptune, and Venus (to name just a few out of hundreds.) Each of these gods and goddesses had their own priestly sects which paid devotion to one specific deity. As a Roman citizen you could pick and chose which of the many gods you wanted to honor. Because of this, each priestly sect could teach doctrines different from the others because no two gods required the same thing from their worshippers. In addition to that, the doctrines and practices for any one god could be different from one region of the world to another.
At the same time, many of the Caesars (the head of the Roman government) often considered themselves as being a god. By virtue of their legal authority, they were, in effect, the head god of the gods. Therefore, all these competing sects operated under the support and endorsement of Caesar. Because of his power, each Caesar could, if he wanted to, order changes made to any priestly ceremony to accommodate his desires.
In the same way, Satan supports, endorses and has power over all the conflicting doctrines and practices which aid in his cause. He is the source of their inspiration. He is their master. Knowingly or unwittingly, they nevertheless willingly serve him to accomplish his purposes. Thus, Satan has many priesthoods because he teaches a wide variety of doctrines to bring people to accept his way of life.
But what actual power does he have? And is that power only limited to what we, as mortals, allow him to have over us? Unfortunately, the answer is that he has quite a bit of power that he uses against us without our approval or knowledge.
Satan's power is very real and very awesome. Perhaps his best known power is that of persuasion. According to the scriptural account, we read that Satan's first attempt to use his power was against Eve. But why her? Why didn't he go after Adam first? Perhaps because Adam wouldn't have given into the temptation? If that is true, then Satan would try an indirect approach to get Adam to violate God's commandment. Using his powers of intellect and persuasion, he tricked Eve into taking the forbidden fruit. But notice that she didn't easily fall for his deception. He had to work on her. She was an intelligent woman, but Satan applied his power against her until he found her weak spot. Then he went in for the kill.
Shortly after she ate the fruit, the scriptures state that she gave it to her husband, who also ate of it. The apostle Paul later wrote that "Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression" (1 Timothy 2:14). According to Paul, Eve was deceived, but Adam knew full well what he was doing. Then why did he deliberately decide to disobey God? What led him to make that fateful decision? It wasn't because he was weak willed. Although the account in Genesis doesn't give us any details, it seems apparent that he voluntarily took the fruit, based on a conscious decision for his need to remain with Eve.
Regardless of the reasons, Satan had nevertheless found a way to use his power against Adam. And Adam didn't give Satan that power over him, but Satan successfully used it anyhow.
Joseph Smith didn't give Satan any power over him, yet Satan brought his full power to bear upon him. Using the fears and prejudices of non-Mormons, Satan stirred them up to violent hatred against the latter-day prophet. Late, on one particular night, he was dragged out of his house by a mob intent on killing him. Unsuccessful at pouring a vile of poison down his throat, they tarred and feathered him instead. His life was always in constant danger until one day, while incarcerated in Carthage jail on false charges, a group of men, inspired of Satan and acting as his emissaries, charged up the stairs to the second floor and shot their way into the jail cell, killing their intended victim. As Joseph Smith laid dead with a bullet in his back, it cannot be said that it happened because he gave Satan the power to end his life.
While in mortality, Jesus Christ thwarted every evil design of Satan's, except one. Inspired and motivated by their father, the Devil, the priestly Pharisees successfully plotted to put Jesus to death. Although it's true that Jesus could have stopped it, yet, it is also true that Satan had no power over the Savior. He was murdered, not by anything He did wrong, but through the awesome power that Satan has over people to carry out his directives.
In the war in heaven, Satan drew one third of our Father's children to his side. That means we have a two-to-one advantage over Satan. However, there are many examples in both the Bible and Book of Mormon where a small fighting force, many times outnumbered by an attacking army, has achieved victory on the battlefield because of superior military strategy. In the war between us and Satan, we may outnumber him, but he still wins many battles through his powers of stealth, deception, subterfuge, cunning, and many other deadly strategies.
We teach as doctrine that Satan doesn't have the power to take away our free agency. Although that may be true, he does have the power to blur the distinction between right and wrong to the point that sometimes we have trouble seeing the truth. To illustrate this point, let's say that someone asked you to embezzle a large sum of money from your company. It would be easy to refuse such a request. But what if you were told that one of your children would be killed without warning if the money wasn't delivered within a week? Under those conditions, fear and doubt might begin to cloud your judgment. And what if your subsequent efforts to thwart such a threat didn't seem to improve the situation? It would be natural for a feeling of despair and frustration to set in that comes from not being in control. Although you still have your agency to make your own choices, can you really call it a "free" decision if you are being severely coerced? Under such circumstances, the decision to do what's right is still yours, but your judgment of what is right may become very uncertain.
In like manner, we are subjected to many situations that are out of our control, but are within the powers of Satan. Through fear, doubt, despair, frustration, and a feeling of hopelessness Satan applies his powers against us hoping to break our spirit. Through his powers of temptation, seduction, persuasion and deceit he probes our character for weak spots, looking for ways to enter and destroy our soul. His attacks are ruthless. His attempts are endless. His tactics are varied. If he can't make a direct frontal assault on us, he attacks from behind, as he did with Adam in the garden of Eden. Satan in a very formidable foe indeed.
Yet, despite all of his powers, they have their limits. Satan does have bounds which he is not permitted to exceed. For example, as already stated, he cannot take away our freedom to choose, although he most desperately wants to if he could. He cannot directly take our life, although he can inspire others to do that. He cannot tempt us more than we are able to endure, although we greatly underestimate our ability to withstand temptation. He cannot read our minds, and neither can he frustrate the designs of God.
When confronted with the priesthood of God, Satan must obey its commands. Consider the story of how Moses dealt with Satan when being tempted by him. Moses commanded him saying, "Depart hence, Satan. And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me. And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell. Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory. And now Satan began to tremble, and the earth shook; and Moses received strength, and called upon God, saying: In the name of the Only Begotten, depart hence, Satan. And it came to pass that Satan cried with a loud voice, with weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth; and he departed hence, even from the presence of Moses, that he beheld him not" (Moses 1:18-22). A similar situation can be found in Mark 5:2-13 when Jesus cast a large number of demons out of a man.
Compared to our Father in heaven, Satan's powers are weak and insignificant. The power of God's one priesthood is more forceful by far than all those of Satan's combined. Satan operates on this earth only by the determination and purposes of God. At any time, God can stop him from doing anything. In fact, during the millennium, the scriptures reveal that Satan will be bound for a thousand years, totally unable to exercise his powers against mortal men.
Our safety in surviving Satan's wrath against us is in aligning ourselves with God and His forces. Abraham had a great desire to be "a follower of righteousness," "to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God." It was by doing this that he "became a rightful heir, [to become] a High Priest... unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God" (Abraham 1:2,4). Because of his righteousness and the powers of the priesthood which he held, when the priests of Elkenah sought to slay him, the Lord delivered him from Evil.
Even though each of us will be sorely tempted from time to time, all of God's commandments are designed to deliver us from the power of Satan when we faithfully observe them. Of course, Satan does everything he can to persuade us not to observe them, but since all mankind will eventually be redeemed through the blood of Christ, Satan's primary goal is to prevent us from inheriting God's greatest gift, eternal life, or exaltation. Even if all he can do is get us to accept a false religion that doesn't have the power to save, or get us to be slothful in living the true gospel of Christ then he has achieved a significant victory.
Fortunately, we live at a time when the priesthood of God is fully active upon the earth. When we desire to become a follower of righteousness, as Abraham did, we can take advantage of the oaths and covenants of that priesthood to enter into binding agreements with God that will give us a greater degree of divine protection against the wiles of the Devil. In that way we stand a fighting chance against him despite the various ministers of evil who hold the priesthoods of Satan.