1 John 3:8. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

The word ‘devil’ does not occur in the Old Testament, so this is not a direct quotation from there. The language is quite similar to Hebrews 2:14-15 —

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who for fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

This verse goes even further than the one in 1 John and teaches us that, not only did Jesus Christ destroy the devil’s work, but when he died he destroyed the devil. It was not a supernatural being that was destroyed at the time of Jesus’ death, so what is the devil that is spoken of here?

Consider two related questions:

  1. Why were they subject to lifelong slavery for “fear of death”? Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. So, before the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, people who sinned — that is everyone — knew that because they had sinned it was inevitable that they would die. They were held in slavery by their fear of death because they knew they were sinners. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ changed all that, “For God so loved the world,  that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”  (John 3:16). Those who genuinely believe Christ died for their sins and who seek God’s forgiveness on this basis will be forgiven their sins and have no need to live their lives in fear of eternal death.
  2. What did Jesus destroy by his death? He destroyed the power of sin to necessarily produce death — for those who have faith. For these people, what occurs at the end of this present life is a sleep from which they will awake at the time of resurrection, to the reward of eternal life in God’s Kingdom.

So, the devil that is spoken of here is the source of sin, which is our disobedient human nature. Jesus Christ has not completely removed sin from the earth yet — that is the work that he will do when he returns to the earth, but the devil’s work, which leads to eternal death, has been destroyed for the faithful.

The reference to the devil sinning from the beginning reminds us that the sin of Adam and Eve brought death, and the sin of Cain brought death to Abel.

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