by Stephen Ferguson | 30 June 2022 |
My wife and I just finished watching the sixth and final season of Lucifer, produced by Fox and later taken up by Netflix. With a solid 88% score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes:
“=This series follows Lucifer, the original fallen angel, who has become dissatisfied with his life in hell. After abandoning his throne and retiring to Los Angeles, Lucifer indulges in his favorite things (women, wine and song) – until a murder takes place outside of his upscale nightclub. For the first time in billions of years, the murder awakens something unfamiliar in Lucifer’s soul that is eerily similar to compassion and sympathy. Lucifer is faced with another surprise when he meets an intriguing homicide detective named Chloe, who appears to possess an inherent goodness – unlike the worst of humanity, to which he is accustomed. Suddenly, Lucifer starts to wonder if there is hope for his soul.
For those keyboard warrior saints about to launch into a tirade about watching such a drama, let me just remind you fictional religious parables are a common genre. From Jesus’ theologically problematic parable about a rich man and Lazarus in hell (Luke 16:19-31), to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, to C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (the latter which Adventist pioneer Ellen White praised in Review & Herald May 30, 1912, par. 11).
Although it was more a cheesy cop romcom than a scary supernatural horror show, I did think the program raised some interesting theological ideas. If I had to reflect upon the spiritual meaning of Fox’s Lucifer (warning – minor spoilers ahead), I would describe it as being about the redemption of Lucifer Morningstar.
It is true: Lucifer is the Devil and Satan, that ancient, completely selfish and self-absorbed angel, who had rebelled against God and was kicked out of heaven. Yet, Fox’s Lucifer is not the cause of suffering in the world. The Devil didn’t make you do it. In fact, the main protagonist is greatly annoyed that humans keep ascribing every wrong in the world to him, rather than accept their own personal responsibility.
Not the devil we know
The notion of sin and salvation in the show also seems to apply a type of moral influence theory. A key theme that evolves throughout the series is how God, first viewed as harsh and distant, is as intimate and merciful as we are willing to make Him. God condemns no one. Rather, we self-actualize our own rewards and punishments. It takes several seasons of the show for Lucifer to realize God isn’t prohibiting him from returning to heaven, but rather Lucifer is doing this to himself. By his own guilt.
One controversial aspect of the show is it has no overt references to Jesus. Presumably this was to avoid alienating non-Christian audiences. However, one fan theory is that Jesus is in fact Amenadiel, the other major angelic character in the series. Amenadiel is God’s firstborn son, is sent to guard Lucifer, temporarily loses his own angelic powers and becomes a policeman in order to better empathize and protect humanity. He ultimately ends up ascending to become God Himself, which isn’t blasphemous if we take him to be an allusion to Christ. Interestingly, Amenadiel is the one angel who never seems to give up on Lucifer, guiding him from darkness back into the light.
The show ends with Lucifer giving up his own claim to his Father’s throne, gaining access to heaven but choosing to stay on earth (and hell), accepting his God-given role is to help others who seem beyond saving. The punchline of the series is in its final 10 minutes, when Lucifer observes that if the Devil can be redeemed, no one is beyond salvation.
Lucifer and the One Million Moms
When the show first aired, the right-wing Christian group One Million Moms petitioned for the show to be cancelled on account of its glorifying Satan as a “good guy”, as well as suggesting he was a “caring likable person in human flesh”. Part of me is sympathetic to the Moms’ concerns.
Indeed, the Bible and Judeo-Christian tradition don’t have a lot of nice things to say about Lucifer. Except that he was arrogant, wanted to be like God, began a war, and was cast out of heaven. The show certainly depicts Lucifer in these terms.
Lucifer’s salvation in Christian thought
After watching the show my wife and I were left with an intriguing thought. Who says Lucifer is beyond salvation? This prompted a bit of digging.
It turns out that the idea of God’s grace being so all-encompassing that even Lucifer might one day be saved has a long pedigree within Christian thought. To this I am very much indebted to the work of C. A. Patrides, whose 1967 article “The Salvation of Satan” takes readers through the rich history of this idea.
Those Christian writers who have advocated for the potential salvation of Satan have included St Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215), Origen (c. 185-254), St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395), George Rust (d. 1670), and John Milton (1608-1674) himself.
This idea even has a name – apocatastasis – from the Greek word for “restitution” or “reconstitution”. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines this as “the doctrine of the final restoration of all sinful beings to God and to the state of blessedness.”
The major Bible verse used to the support the apocatastasis of Satan is Acts 3:21. Just after Peter heals a disabled beggar outside the Temple, Peter goes on to teach the Jews at the Temple about the Second Coming of Jesus, saying:
“Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”
Christian writers have taken Peter’s words quite literally. When the Second Advent of Jesus occurs, these Christian writers believed God will restore everything to its original place free from the taint of sin. That even includes Lucifer.
Universalism, Universal Legal Justification, and Lucifer’s salvation
Now to be fair most of those who believe in apocatastasis also tend to support the doctrine of universalism, which suggests everyone will eventually be saved. To be clear, universalism doesn’t quite sit right with me, as it seems to fly in the face of a God of free choice. Which would thus undermine the very purpose for which this cosmic drama is being played out, from Lucifer’s war in heaven to Adam’s eating of the forbidden fruit.
However, what does resonate with me is the idea of every being in the universe having the potential to be saved. That salvation is truly universally offered, even if it is not universally taken. And yes, that includes offered to Lucifer.
That idea sits more comfortably with my Protestant Christian faith, truly emphasizing the unlimited breadth and depth of God’s grace. It would also draw upon elements within Adventist history itself, including the so-called universal legal justification theory of the 1888 righteousness by faith message.
Purportedly drawing upon the teachings of Adventist pioneers Jones and Waggoner, and endorsed later by White, this idea suggests everyone is objectively saved. To be clear, salvation is not forced upon us, and we can subjectively reject that gift. However, unlike most Christian frameworks that say we need to “do” something to opt in to salvation, universal legal justification teaches we must purposefully opt out of eternal life:
“The only reason anyone will be lost is because they have deliberately and ultimately rejected the objective facts of salvation in Christ.”
But doesn’t the Bible predict Satan’s eventual destruction?
No doubt some will object by noting the Bible predicts Satan’s destruction in the lake of fire:
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Rev. 20:10)
While I believe in biblical prophecy, of course, I have a problem with applying one fixed or literal interpretation of prophecy:
- Adventists don’t read this prophecy literally anyway, as we do not believe Satan will be tortured for eternity.
- The story of Jonah illustrates a prophecy can be a conditional warning, even when it doesn’t seem to have conditions (Jonah 3:4,10).
- The story of the golden calf, when God threatens to wipe out Israel and begin anew through Moses, illustrates that prophecies have multiple alternative ways of being fulfilled with God having “back-up” plans (Ex. 32:10).
- The story of John the Baptist’s being Elijah returned illustrates even when prophecies are fulfilled, they tend to be fulfilled in ways we can’t predict and don’t expect (Mal. 4:5-6; Matt. 11:13-15).
We don’t know, for example, whether Revelation 20:10 might be fulfilled by the persona of Satan being destroyed by fire—perhaps even quite literally—but with the being Lucifer emerging reborn anew. I am not saying this is what will happen. Quite the contrary, I am simply saying I just don’t know what will happen.
But how can fallen angels be saved if Jesus died only for humanity?
Another objection would involve asking how Lucifer and the fallen angels could be saved if Jesus only died for humanity. Even amongst those who accept universalism or universal legal justification, many view salvation as only relating to humans – not angelic beings. After all, the Bible tells us:
For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb. 2:16-18)
Again, that is what the Bible teaches, so of course I believe it. However, while scripture explains why the Son of God had to become a human in order to save humans, including to help us through human trials and temptations, I am not sure if that necessarily totally excludes angels from the plan of salvation.
To ask a potentially controversial question then: “Maybe Jesus died by surrendering His pre-incarnate angelic form?”
For all the criticisms with ascribing the pre-incarnation Son of God identity to Michael the Archangel, there is a long Christian tradition going back to Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and other “Church Fathers” of recognizing the pre-incarnate Christ as the Old Testament “Angel of the Lord”. Jacob wrestled with an angel (Gen 32:24), but then claimed he had seen God face-to-face. The Angel of the Lord appeared in the burning bush (Ex 3:2) but is later described as being God Himself.
To the pre-incarnate Christ, who as the Angel of the Lord was fully and eternally God, and Creator of the entire universe, but who surrendered it all by becoming a mere man, was this not also a New Testament act of divine-death (Phil. 2:5-8)? In this sense, aren’t both Christmas and Easter stories about the sacrifice of the Son of God? Noting Jesus only truly regains His divine-like powers and angelic status in the resurrection (John 20:19), something that also awaits all of us to a degree (Mark 12:25), could not the empty tomb bring salvation beyond terrestrial concerns? Isn’t there a new heaven as well as a new earth (Rev. 21:1)?
Do I really believe Lucifer and the fallen angels will be saved?
Do I really think it is likely Lucifer or any fallen angels will eventually obtain eternal life? To be honest – no. But do I want to believe that God’s grace is truly unlimited, so that even the archvillain of cosmic history has that opportunity? – yes.
Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:39).
Stephen Ferguson is a lawyer from Perth, Western Australia, with expertise in planning, environment, immigration and administrative-government law. He is married to Amy and has two children, William and Eloise. Stephen is a member of the Livingston Adventist Church.