Like Lightning from Heaven (Luke 10:18): Jesus’ Apocalyptic Vision of the Fall of Satan

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Did Jesus’ vision of Satan plummeting from heaven have a symbolic meaning that is not readily apparent to modern readers?

The above image shows a miniature painting by Dirc van Delf appearing in an illuminated manuscript (ca. 1400) depicting the fall of Satan from heaven. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven. (Luke 10:18)

Luke 10:18 is unique in that it records the only apocalyptic[1] vision attributed to Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels.[2] According to Luke, Jesus described his vision of Satan’s expulsion from heaven in response to the apostles’ report of the successful exorcisms they performed in the course of their missionary endeavor.

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  • [1] The English noun “apocalypse” and the English adjective “apocalyptic” derive from the Greek word ἀποκάλυψις (apokalūpsis, “uncovering,” “revelation”). In popular usage “apocalypse” is a synonym for end-time catastrophe (e.g., the “Zombie Apocalypse”), but in biblical studies “apocalypse” refers to a literary genre concerned with the uncovering of mysteries. These mysteries are not exclusively or even primarily concerned with eschatology (i.e., end times). Apocalypses can explore the hidden workings of the universe, uncover secret truths of the story of creation or of current events, as well as reveal God’s hidden plan for the future. Jesus’ vision of Satan’s fall is apocalyptic in the sense that Jesus was afforded a glimpse of the happenings in the spiritual realms that are not ordinarily accessible to the physical senses. See Michael E. Stone, “Apocalyptic Literature,” in Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period (CRINT II.2; ed. Michael E. Stone; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 383-441; David Flusser, “Apocalypse,” in Encyclopedia Judaica (2d ed.; 22 vols.; ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik; Detroit: Macmillan, 2007), 2:256-258.
  • [2] See Rudolf Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition (trans. John Marsh; New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 108; François Bovon, Luke: Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (3 vols.; trans. Donald S. Deer; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002-2013), 2:25. Partly for this reason, some scholars have suggested that it was not Jesus who witnessed the fall of Satan, but the demons whom the apostles had exorcised. In addition, there is a built-in ambiguity in the text since the Greek verb ἐθεώρουν could either be a first person singular (“I was seeing”) or a third person plural (“they were seeing”). See Julian V. Hills, “Luke 10.18—Who Saw Satan Fall?” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 46 (1992): 25-40.

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