If the Bible term devil is symbolic, can you explain 2 Thessalonians 2 verse 9? Paul speaks of a force that has powerful signs and actions and does not seem symbolic but real.
2 Thess. 2:7-12 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Jesus tells us clearly that evil comes from within man, not from without.
Mark 7:18-23 So He said to them, "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 "because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" 20 And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 "thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 "All these evil things come from within and defile a man."
James describes the process:
James 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
Satan, the devil, is not just symbolic of temptation, Satan, the devil, is also the personification of the proclivity to sin within man, both individually and collectively. Satan means adversary and that which is our adversary comes in more than one form.
- An angel who was an adversary to Job, but who obeyed God perfectly.
Job 1:6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.
Meaning: The angels are given charge over those who are heirs of salvation, all of whom will have their faith put to the test - as Job's was for our learning.
- God himself who moved David to number Israel.
1 Chronicles 21:1 Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.
2 Samuel 24:1 Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, "Go, number Israel and Judah."
Meaning: God was angry with Israel and moved David to number them to test them. They failed the test by not paying the money required by the Law of Moses.
- Our own thoughts and desires which are contrary to the word of God.
Matthew 4:10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Meaning: Jesus refused to countenance a course of action suggested by his own thoughts (he was tempted exactly as we are) which would avoid the cross.
Mark 4:15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.
Meaning: Their own ideas and ambitions in this life leave no place for the Gospel to take root – they won’t consider it.
- The propensity to sin (i.e. to succumb to temptation) within ourselves.
Luke 22:3 Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.
Meaning: Judas made the decision to go through with the betrayal.
Acts 5:3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?
Meaning: Ananias and his wife had concocted a scheme to lie about the price of the land.
- The evil manifested in persecution by those in authority who oppose the truth.
1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
Such a one was Saul of Tarsus:
Acts 8:3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Acts 9:1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest.
- The domain of Satan being outside of the body of believers in Christ.
1 Timothy 1:20 of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
Meaning: Excommunicated in order to make them reconsider their actions.
- Those whose carnal advice is contrary to Godly behaviour:
Mark 8:33 But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, "Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."
- The lust of our flesh which can cause us to go astray.
1 Corinthians 7:5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Meaning: husbands and wives are not to put themselves in a position that can lead to sexual immorality.
- A physical infirmity.
2 Corinthians 12:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
Meaning: Paul had to endure an unspecified physical infirmity.
- Jews who proved to be adversaries to the truth.
Revelation 2:9 I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
- The pagan Government of the Roman Empire when the Gospel was first preached.
Revelation 12:3-9 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads… 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Meaning: The preaching of the Gospel prevailed over the pagan Government in the political heaven of the Roman Empire. Constantine legalised Christianity and Theodosus outlawed pagan worship. The victory was achieved by preaching and martyrdom.
Revelation 12:11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
- A collective term for those who do evil and oppose Christ at the beginning of his 1000-year reign over the earth.
Revelation 20:2 He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;
Revelation 20:7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison.
The evil that men do will be suppressed during the millennial reign of Christ. His government being such that evil cannot flourish - a criminal will have nowhere to hide. The bottomless pit represents a state of non-existence. At the end of the millennial reign evil is allowed to rise again to bring about a final showdown prior to the judgment in which all the wicked will be destroyed.
2 Thess. 2:9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,
This refers to the apostasy of the Christian Church when it became the State Church of the Roman Empire. It had power because the Government supported it and it has a history of so-called miracles and visions with which it deludes the credulous. Its doctrines are opposed to scripture. The trinity, immortal souls, heaven-going at death, hell as a place of eternal torment, Satan as a fallen angel, division into clergy and laity, ‘just’ wars, etc. All these ‘after the working of Satan’ in that they are adversaries to the truth preached by Jesus and his apostles. The lawless one is the Papacy – a succession of men who claim jurisdiction over the whole earth.
I hope you find this helpful.