Bible Answer

If God cannot tolerate sin in His presence, how can Satan still have access to the throne room?

Pastor Armstrong teaches that God cannot tolerate sin in His presence. In the Genesis study, he taught God (mercifully) made noise in the Garden so Adam and Eve would hide from Him, and be spared instant death. Yet, in another Bible lesson, Pastor Armstrong remarked how, although he was thrown down from heaven, Satan still has access to God's throne room. Can you please help reconcile these differences for me?

Pastor Armstrong taught the biblical truth that no unclean man may enter into the presence of God without experiencing judgment. This principle is summed up by one verse that God spoke to Moses:

Ex. 33:20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”

And John declares:

1John 4:12 No one has seen God at any time;

And Paul says the same:

1Tim. 6:16 [God] alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

God cannot be seen truly because to see God is to be judged by God. 

In Exodus 33, God declares that Moses could not see God’s face and live. God cannot be seen (as Pastor Armstrong explained) because God’s holiness and perfect judgment requires that He must condemn sin if it enters His presence (i.e., sees His “face”). Since Moses desired to see God’s glory (i.e., to experience God’s presence firsthand), the Lord granted Moses’ request by making a necessary accommodation:

Ex. 33:21 Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock;
Ex. 33:22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.
Ex. 33:23 “Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”

As an act of mercy for Moses, the Lord presented Himself to Moses in the form of the Shechinah glory. The Shechinah glory of God is not the full presence of God (i.e., His “face”) but only a physical manifestation or representation of Himself. Because the Shechinah glory is not the full presence of God, sinful people may survive such a personal encounter.

God mercifully appeared in this way to Moses so that the Lord would not be required to judge Moses’ sin. This same kind of accommodation is necessary any time God appears to mankind, and we find the pattern across the Bible. For example, the Lord gave Adam and Woman in the Garden protection from destruction by making noise to encourage them to hide from His presence. Similarly, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and to Israel as a pillar of cloud rather than in His true form to protect them from judgment. 

The Lord also placed His Shechinah glory in the tabernacle to protect the High Priest. The Shechinah glory also appeared to Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Paul and John in manifestations that obscured His true appearance. In each case, God permitted His servants to witness His glory yet without seeing His “face” to protect them from judgment. Only a sinless being may observe the face of our holy God, as Jesus declares:

Matt. 18:10  “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 

So how does Satan, the author of sin, stand in the presence of God (e.g., Job 1)? The answer is in the same way as these others. We know Satan currently has access to the throne of God, and therefore the Lord must be concealing His “face” from Satan in those moments, or else God would be required to pour out His wrath against Satan as well. 

Furthermore, we also know from other scripture that the Lord is intentionally delaying judgment for Satan until the end of this age:

Rev. 12:9 And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
Rev. 12:10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying,  “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.
Rev. 12:11 “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.
Rev. 12:12 “For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”

Until the final 3.5 years of this age, Satan has free access to the glory of God. But at the midpoint of Tribulation, Satan will finally be barred from entering into the presence of the Lord. In that moment, Satan will become aware that his time is short and turn his wrath against humanity on earth. Evidently, the Lord has delayed acting against Satan in this way out of mercy for mankind, since He does not want to provoke Satan’s anger prematurely. This would also explain why the Lord permits Satan the opportunity to enter into His presence now (though without seeing His face). 

Nevertheless, in a day to come, the Lord will finally judge Satan as He must:

Rev. 20:7  When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison,
Rev. 20:8 and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.
Rev. 20:9 And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
Rev. 20:10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.