From A Catalogue of Angels
I watched Satan fall from Heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. (Luke 10:18-19)
No matter which holy text, legend, or theory you believe, all versions of the angels’ fall have one thing in common: the angels’ relationship to human beings. The Christian story is possibly the most kind, in terms of the beginning of the strife. The first we hear of the devil, or Satan, he is in the form of a serpent in the Garden of Eden, convincing Eve that all is not as God says it is. We get hints of the devil’s beginning – Satan had once been an angel – in one or two passages of the later prophets, and only in the New Testament, in the Book of Jude, do we get a little more of the story:
The angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day. (v. 6)
But the real dirt on the devil is found in the legends of Judaism, in which we discover that the angels as a whole disapproved of the enterprise called humanity. They resented that God would give any sort of honor to these creatures made from simple earth. They were indignant about how physically weak we are, our bodies harboring all sorts of lusts and passions that lead to no good. Later, even the angels who had not fallen and who were in Heaven with God were not at all happy when they learned that God was about to give Moses the Torah.
The event that led to the fall of some of the angels was God’s requirement that they prostrate themselves before Adam. Some of the early scholars (including Thomas Aquinas) theorized that the angels made themselves holy by their first good act. They had the will and intellect to do good or evil, and once they chose either, that’s what they became. If we hold to this theory, then perhaps the angels’ first opportunity for good or evil was how they reacted to God’s creation of the human race.
In Jewish lore, Satan refused to bow before Adam, declaring that the man was inferior to him. So God cast Satan – and the angels who, along with Satan, refused to bow – out of Heaven. Satan came to the Garden of Eden to tempt Adam and Eve and thus have his vengeance.
This legend is repeated, with some adjustments, and becomes holy text in the Qur’an, appearing in at least two different places. In one, God tells the angels that Adam will be his deputy on Earth, and the angels protest that God would make as deputy one who would “do evil and shed blood, when we have for so long sung your praises and sanctified your name.” But God taught Adam the names of things, and this knowledge had not been given to the angels; thus Adam’s superiority was proved. Whereupon God told the angels to bow before Adam, and all but Satan did so. In the next account, Satan (Iblis, in Arabic) argues that man is made from clay, and he, the angel, is made from fire, so he will not bow before the man. So God casts out Satan and his companions.
So at the heart of the angels’ fall was pride, or envy; they did not want human beings to enjoy God’s favor or the angels’ honor. Lust also became a theme in the angels’ downfall. According to a prominent Jewish legend, a lower rank of angels, called the Watchers, were placed on Earth to help humans. They were teachers and guardians. But in the course of their work, they began to lust after human women. And some of the Watchers had sexual relations with the women. Out of these unions came the giants, or Nefilim, mentioned in Genesis 6:4.
The problem with their theory is that angels were considered to be spirit and genderless, and so how could they lust after human women? Some churchmen decided that the Watchers were actually a tenth rank of angels, who had material – and sexual – bodies. The Christians gave them the name Grigori.
In the book of Ezekiel, chapter 28, we have a portrait of Satan’s pride and fall, folded within a prophecy about the evil king of Tyre:
Because you have been so haughty and have said, “I am a god; I sit enthroned like a god in the heart of the sea”….
You were the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and flawless in beauty,
You were Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was our adornment….
I created you as a cherub
With outstretched shielding wings;
And you resided on God’s holy mountain;
You walked among stones of fire.
You were blameless in your ways,
From the day you were created
Until wrongdoing was found in you….
You grew haughty because of your beauty,
You debased your wisdom for the sake of your splendor,
I have cast you to the ground,
I have made you an object for kings to stare at.
(verses 2, 12-13, 14-15, 17, Tanakh)
Satan has been considered the prince of the demons, the great angel who led many other angels astray. Many versions of Satan exist in mythology and belief. Malcolm Godwin presents a helpful summary of them in Angels: An Endangered Species. Satan has been identified with the Hebrew name of Apollyon, the angel of the bottomless pit. He is also known as Samuel, the Angel of Death; as Belial, the ruling prince of Sheol; as Beelzebub (this name was applied earlier to a Canaanite deity); as Azazel, the chief of the Grigori; as Masterna, the Accusing Angel; and Lucifer, Prince of the Power of the Air, once the greatest angel.
It has long been believed that Satan was the great angel, perhaps the greatest, the first angel created, God’s favorite. Because the order of Seraphim are considered to be those closest to God’s glory, many have conjectured that Satan was the archangel prince of the Seraphim before his fall from Heaven. In Ezekiel 28:14, Satan is referred to as God’s cherub, leading some to believe that he was the chief of the Cherubim.
According to tradition, Satan convinced a third of the Heavenly host to rebel with him, and those multitudes became fallen angels, or demons.