1 Peter 5:8
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour
The verse in question is often quoted in support of the popular belief in a supernatural personal Agent of evil, briefly described as the Devil, possessing attributes of omnipotence and omnipresence almost equal to God. But Peter's expression does not convey that idea at all. To understand his meaning consider the scriptural use of the words : Devil, Lion, Roaring, Devour, and Prey.
DEVIL.- The primary meaning of this word is "a false accuser" or "slanderer," diabolos being derived from diaballo, to thrust through, defame, "accuse" (see Luke 16 : 1). It is applied to men who slander God and oppose His truth. Thus, speaking of Judas, Jesus said, "Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" (John 6: 70). And Paul, speaking of deacons, says, "So must their wives be grave, not slanderers" (diaboloi, 1 Tim. 3 : 11). And again, "Men shall be false accusers" (diaboloi, 2 Tim. 3 : 3). Thus "devil" is human, masculine or feminine; and like "man" may be either singular or plural. When Peter speaks of "your adversary, the devil,"he means not the imaginary fiend of Miltonic theology, but the aggregate of human enmity, and evil speaking, of which he had been telling the brethren in ch. 4 : 2, 3, 4. Hence the exhortation, "Be sober, be vigilant." So, in his second epistle, Peter goes on to warn his brethren against "false teachers. . . who shall privily bring in damnable heresies" (ch. 2 : 1), "speaking evil of things they understand not" (v. 12), and "beguiling unstable souls" (v. 14).
LION.- Beasts are not infrequently used in the scriptures to symbolize both nations and men. Daniel says he saw "four great beasts come up from the sea" (Dan. 7 : 3). These are explained to be "four kings," or kingdoms (v. 17). "The first was like a lion" (v. 4), and represented the Babylonian kingdom (Jer. 4: 7; 50: 17). It was a great blasphemer of God and destroyer of His people Israel. The Psalms contain many references to the wicked as wild beasts : "He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den" (Psa. 10 : 9). "Strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths as a ravening and roaring lion" (Psa. 22: 12, 13). "Save me from the lion's mouth" (v. 21). This was prophetic of Christ when his adversary the devil put him to death by crucifixion. When hanging on the cross he cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me" (the opening lamentation of this 22nd Psalm). If we would have the matter still more clearly put we may read Psa. 57 : 4 "My soul is among lions . . . even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword." "He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den : he lieth in wait to catch the poor" (Psa. 10 : 9).
ROARING.- When Israel was spoiled by the enemy, "The young lions roared upon him, and yelled; and they made his land waste" (Jer. 2 : 15). And, foretelling the desolation of Babylon, the prophet said, "They shall roar together like lions."
The devil roared like a lion at Ephesus, against Paul and the Christians (Acts 19: 34). And the Jewish cry against Jesus, "Crucify him, crucify him" (John 19 : 6), was another illustration of "a soul among lions." The Papal devil roared like a lion against Luther and the Reformers. "He spake as a dragon" (Rev. 13 : 11). "As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear, so is a wicked ruler among his people" (Prov. 28: 15). Peter warned believers against such "wicked rulers." The Roman Magistracy was the antidikos, or "adversary," in question.
DEVOUR.- This does not signify the eternal torment of "immortal souls" in a fiery hell, but the destruction of character, property and life upon earth. The Pharisees "devoured widows' houses" (Matt. 23: 14). "The wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he" (Hab. 1: 13). The devil sought to devour Christ in infancy: "Herod will seek the young child to destroy him" (Matt. 2: 13). "There is a generation whose teeth are as swords and their jaw-teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth" (Prov. 30: 14 -- compare Psa. 57 : 4). "Your own sword hath devoured your prophets" (Jer. 2 : 30). God's "fiery indignation shall devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10: 27) in the day of judgment. That is, the devil himself will then be devoured. The false prophets in Israel like roaring lions "devoured souls" (Ezek. 22: 25). They "destroyed souls" in getting dishonest gain by idolatry (v. 26-29), the practice of which meant death without remedy. The early Christians were thus tempted of the devil, when the Roman magistrates persuaded them to execrate Christ, offer sacrifice to idols, and so to save their lives. The devil was too much for some of them, hence we hear Paul say, "At my first answer, no man stood by me, but all forsook me . . . nevertheless the Lord stood with me . . . and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion" (2 Tim. 4 : 16, 17). "The lion" here is "the devil" of 1 Pet. 5 : 8; that is, the Roman tribunal. It was of this also that Christ afterwards Wrote to the church at Smyrna, saying, "The devil shall cast some of you into prison that ye may be tried" (Rev. 2 : 10). The popular "Devil" is supposed to cast "immortal souls" into "hell-fire" after they have been tried and found wanting; but here Christ exhorts these to be, like Paul, "faithful unto death," and promises such devil-imprisoned but faithful saints "a crown of life." "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death" (v. 11).
PREY.- It is obvious from what has already been said that "the prey" of "the devil" was the Christians themselves - their lives and all their belongings. In Peter's day, as in the day of Isaiah, the wicked were in power: "Truth faileth, and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey" (Isa. 59: 15). The nation of Israel was the prey of Babylon. "My flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field" (Ezek. 34 : 8). These beasts of the field were the surrounding nations: "They shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies" (2 Kings 21 : 14). God, in fact, devoured Israel by these instruments : "I will devour them like a lion" (Hos. 13: 7, 8). Such has been the condition of Israel for many centuries. But a great reversal is at hand for Israel and for the saints as well. "All that devour thee (O Israel) shall be devoured . . . all they that prey upon thee will I give for a prey (Jer. 30: 16). "The remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles . . . as a young lion among flocks of sheep " (Micah 5 : 8). "Thou (Israel) art my battle-axe and weapons of war, for with thee will I break in pieces the nations" (Jer. 51: 20). That is why we are hearing so much about Zionism and the idea of a new Jewish State. "The Lion of the Tribe of Judah" (Rev. 5 : 5) is about to intervene to re-establish the throne and kingdom of David and to bind the devil and cast him into the abyss for a thousand years (Rev. 20: 1-4). "Like as the lion and the young lion roaring on his prey. . . so shall the Lord of Hosts come down to fight for Mount Zion" (Isa. 31: 4). The devil will have taken the land for "a prey" (Ezek. 38: 12), but God in Christ will wrest it from him. "Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive be delivered? But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered; for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children" (Isa. 49 24, 25). "Therefore, wait ye upon me (all ye meek of the earth, ch. 2 3), saith the Lord, until the day that I rise u to the prey for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger, for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy" (Zeph. 3 8). Then God will "break out the great teeth of the young lions" (Psa. 58 6) and destroy the "grievous wolves" that have not spared the flock (Acts 20 : 29). Then the faithful saints, who, in Peter's day and afterwards, "resisted" the devil, being "stedfast in the faith," and "overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and loved not their lives unto death" (Rev. 12 : 9, 11), will turn upon him with a two-edged sword. "Let the saints be joyful in glory . . . a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance upon the heathen (nations), to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute upon them the judgments written : this honour have ALL HIS SAINTS" (Psa. 149 5-9). Thus the "adversary," "devil," "roaring lion," "dragon," "old serpent," "satan," will be bound and cast into the abyss for a thousand years, while Christ and the saints reign upon earth.
Reproduced from: The Christadelphian Shield: Papers Explanatory of Wrested Scriptures