A Human King…Or Satan Himself?

We know that Satan was originally created as an angel, and we know that he fell because of his sin, but have you ever wondered why the Bible does not record this event?  But then again, maybe it does.  As we look for it, let us also consider some secondary lessons about studying the Bible as well.

The passage that records this event comes in the middle of a discussion of the fall of Babylon in Isaiah 13-14.  Beginning in Isaiah 14:4, the prophet describes a taunt that God’s people will take up against the “King of Babylon.”  Now you might be thinking, “I thought you said this was about the fall of Satan?”  Well, it is, but we have to look at the whole passage to see what it is talking about.

Anyway, this “king” is described as a very barbaric ruler who oppressed people across the world, was incredibly wicked, and utterly arrogant (Isaiah 14:5-7, 13-14).  He claimed that he would “ascend into heaven” and become “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13-14).  He was literally saying that he was going to become greater than God Himself.  He is noted to be of such great importance, the taunt tells the king, “Sheol…is excited over you to meet you” (Isaiah 14:9).  All this seems to describe something more than just a mere man.

And as we look at the context of the passage, another issue arises that points to something other than an actual human king of Babylon.  In the larger portion of the immediate context, the Lord is describing two phases of the Babylonian Kingdom: the destruction from Media-Persia, and the destruction at the end of time (Isaiah 13:6, 17).  When we consider the immediate context of this taunt against the king of chapter fourteen, we see that it does not refer to the first destruction of Babylon.  Isaiah said that Israel would take up this taunt against Babylon when God once again had “compassion” on His people and placed “them in their own land” (Isaiah 14:1).  When Babylon was defeated by Media-Persia, the Jews were still in captivity, and they remained in that condition until the reign of Cyrus (Ezra 1:2-3).  And when they did return, they were in “great distress” and in ridicule from the surrounding nations (Nehemiah 1:3).   So This was definitely not a time when they would be taunting a kingdom that had fallen years ago.

So if it was not the first fall of Babylon, then when does this prophecy take place?  Well, I believe it will occur during the Millennial Kingdom.  Notice once again that Isaiah’s greater context is eschatological, meaning it deals with end times.  In its most broad use, “the Day of the Lord” refers to God’s judgment at the end of time (Isaiah 13:6).  Isaiah also uses images of the stars, sun, and the moon being darkened at this time, which Jesus said will occur when He returns (Isaiah 13:10; Matthew 24:29-30).  The imagery of the destruction of Babylon—including people mourning and the heavens shaking—in  Isaiah 13 is strikingly similar to that of Jesus’ dialog about End Times and what John wrote in Revelation 6 (Matthew 24-25 is known as the “Olivet Discourse”).

The transition between Isaiah 13 and 14 also adds weight to the understanding that the taunt will take place at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom.  I already noted how Israel will come back and be settled in their own land when they take up the taunt, but there is something else too that must be considered.  After He settles Israel, God will bring Gentile nations to serve Israel—the very nations that had oppressed them before (Isaiah 14:1-2).  Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon—the three main nations that oppressed Israel—have never served them yet, so this must take place at a later time.  These nations will serve Israel by living in peace with them and serving the Lord (Isaiah 14:2-3).  These are specific prerequisites to the following verses about the “king” of Babylon.

 All of these specifics will be fulfilled when Christ comes back.  He will gather His people from across the world and will bring them to Jerusalem (Zachariah 14:3-8; Matthew 24:29-31).  He will then give His people authority and they will reign with the Lord (Revelation 20:4).  Gentile nations will be a part of those who remain, but they will all be true believers who set their hearts on coming to Jerusalem and serving the Lord, living in perfect peace with Israel (Isaiah 2:1-4; Matthew 25:31-46).  At the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom, Israel and the Gentile nations that remain will fulfill all the requirements that prepare for the taunt of Isaiah 14.

Alright, all that shows the timing of the prophecy.  Israel did not return to their land to live in perfect peace when Babylon fell to the Medes.  When Israel did return under the reign of Cyrus, they did not dwell in the land securely.  The greater context of Isaiah 14 is Eschatological, and all of the aspects of the prophecy of the setting of the taunt will be fulfilled when Christ comes the second time.  There has not been a period in history that has met all the requirements of Isaiah 14:1-3, nor will there be, until the time of the Millennial Kingdom.

Now as we turn to the taunt itself, we see several descriptions that point to the “king” being more than just a human. He is described as being “the scepter of rulers,” indicating his activity in the reign of all the kings of the earth (Isaiah 14:5).  He did not put them in power, but he does seem to have a part of all of their reigns. From the New Testament, we learn that Satan is “the ruler of this world” and “the god of this world” (John 16:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4). Now this is not conclusive evidence, but it does add to our understanding of why “the whole earth is at rest and is quiet” when the king of Babylon is destroyed (Isaiah 14:7).  God is ultimately the One who gives authority to human rulers, but He has permitted Satan to have authority in this world for this season.  There is coming a time when he is removed, and that is when perfect peace will come.

The description of the peace that arises at the king’s destruction is unparalleled in history, pointing to the removal of Satan.  As mentioned just above, the entire earth will be “at rest and quiet,” meaning not aroused with fear.  The word picture in verse 8 of trees rejoicing over the fallen king and saying that they are no longer being cut down has reference to an extended illustration God has used a few chapters earlier to describe different nations (Isaiah 9-10).  Therefore, this means that since the king has fallen, no longer are nations being attacked and destroyed.  War has ceased.  Once more, this plays into what will happen at the end of time (Isaiah 2:1-4; Revelation 21:4). 

Next we see the glee of hell over the coming of this king.  It is “Excited…to meet” this king and prepares “maggots” as his bed (Isaiah 14:9, 11).  “It arouses” all the great kings and “Spirits of the dead” as a sort of devilish welcoming committee (Isaiah 14:9).  By the words of these kings already in hell, we know that the king of Babylon was mightier than they were (Isaiah 14:10).  Now we know from Daniel that there has never been a world ruler who was greater than Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who destroyed Jerusalem (Daniel 2:37-40).  We know for sure that Isaiah 14 cannot refer to Nebuchadnezzar, since he carried Israel away captive and never let them return to their land, and Babylon fell under the reign of his grandson.  This would have to be a ruler greater than all the human kings who have ruled the earth.

But if we look at Scripture, I think the excitement of hell is not just because this mighty ruler has fallen: it is finally meeting the one it was prepared for.  I mean, hell was never made or necessarily designed for human sinners.  Jesus said that hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).  We know that Satan will be defeated when Christ returns, cast into a bottomless pit, then cast into hell at the close of the Millennial Kingdom as the Eternal State begins (Revelation 20:1-3, 10).  He has been given authority over the world for a time, but there is coming a day when He will be cast into hell.  He has been defeated at the cross, but his punishment will be brought to fruition at the Millennial Kingdom.

Next in Isaiah 14, we see that this king is probably some sort of angelic being.  He is called “star of the morning,” which is a term applied by God to angels, which we can see from the pairing of that phrase with the name “sons of God” (Genesis 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Job 38:7; Isaiah 14:12).  This being was given authority over the earth, but he wanted more.  His pride led him to desire to be greater than God, and Paul says that pride was the very sin of Satan (Isaiah 14:13-14; 1 Timothy 3:6).

One final thing to note is the kingdom that this ruler is over.  According to Revelation, “Babylon” is the name of the world empire which Satan will lead through the Antichrist during the tribulation, the seven-year period leading up to the return of Christ (Revelation 13:1-4; 17:3, 5, 8-15).  In this sense, “Babylon” refers to the world power, the world-system that will be in place at the last day.

So to sum up, this king is some type of ruler who has some measure of authority over the kingdoms of the earth, is the cause of violence and war, makes hell excited to meet him, is an angelic being, and is the leader of the world system at the end of time. All of this will be thrown back in his face when Israel returns to their own land during the Millennial Kingdom because he has been conquered, defeated, and punished.  The conclusion?  This refers to Satan. Some of these arguments may be stronger than others, but the ones that I really want to point out are the ones about how war will cease at this king’s defeat and the fact that hell itself and all it contains are excited to meet this ruler.  Coupled with the other aspects of the taunt, the passage seems to call for an ultimate fulfillment concerning Satan.  Perhaps this was immediately fulfilled when Israel returned from the exile as they taunted the nation that had taken them captive, but it cannot completely be fulfilled by that action (see verse 2-3 and what the Gentile nations do at this time).

This is not an easy conclusion to reach, but by cross-referencing Scripture, we see what the word pictures, images, and names have reference to.  The context also sheds light on the meaning of this prophecy.  All of this shows the importance of Bible study on a deeper level than “Verse OF the Day” apps.  Those have their place, but for us to know how to accurately handle God’s word, we have to do more (2 Timothy 2:15).

If we just look at the boast of Satan in verses 13 and 14 of Isaiah 14, we would not have an idea of who was being discussed.  Even if we just looked at the chapter by itself, we still might miss it.  Only by seeing it in light of the greater prophecy concerning the End Times defeat of Babylon do we begin to see who this taunt is against.  Context is key.  There were no verse or chapter divisions in the original manuscripts, or even in the early copies, so don’t let those stop your study.  To truly understand passages, we have to keep both the immediate and greater contexts in mind.  For example, the immediate context in this instance is chapters 13 and 14 of Isaiah, and the greater context is the whole Bible, specifically Eschatological passages.  God gave us 66 books for a reason.  Let’s use all of them in our study of His Word.

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