In answering the above question, let me start out by acknowledging that this is not an essential issue for the Gospel, so good Christians who believe the Bible can disagree on this subject. In fact, there are Bible scholars whom I greatly respect, like R. C. Sproul, who disagree with me on this. However, I do think that this is important enough that we should consider it for a moment. My short answer, with some pretty big caveats, is “yes.”
The main passage to which Dr. Sproul points is John 3:1-3. Nicodemus started “buttering up” Jesus by saying that “no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." In other words, someone with Satanic power could not do what Jesus was doing, and it's true that Jesus never corrected his theology on that point.
I totally agree that Satan could never perform the miracles that Jesus did (like really raising someone from the dead), but does that mean that he could never carry out any supernatural signs at all? Today’s passage, to me, seems to be evidence to the contrary. Did the magicians in Pharaoh’s court just “fake it” with snakes that were ramrod stiff until they threw them to the ground? Maybe, but it appears to me that the simplest explanation is that the magicians, through Satanic power, were able to duplicate this transformation. They were also able, to some degree, to duplicate the plague of blood on the Nile and the plague of frogs.
But please notice something else. I always find this humorous every time I read this story: The magicians were able to duplicate some of the plagues, but they couldn’t reverse them. I can just see Pharaoh saying to them, “Uh, guys, that’s great and all. Yeah, that’s exactly what I needed—more frogs!!!!! How’s about GETTING RID OF THE FROGS WE HAVE ALREADY!!! That would impress me!” Once Moses produced gnats, the magicians had to give up. And as we read here, when the magicians turned their rods into snakes, during their first confrontation, Aaron’s snake gobbled up all the rest. So Satan was able, in some degree, to duplicate God’s work, but they were always inferior to what the Lord was doing, and he couldn’t really directly work counter to the Almighty's plan.
So assuming that my interpretation on all this is correct, what can we learn from it? Well, the first thing that jumps out at me is that Satan can only produce a duplicate of what God is doing; he can never actually create anything. Also, his counterfeits are always poorer in quality than God’s work.
But the flip side of this is very sobering. I believe that Satan is capable of supernatural activities which can be construed to be miraculous. In fact, Paul warned us about the days right before the return of Christ, when people will be deceived by a Satanic representative whose coming will be “in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie." Whether or not we want to call those real miracles, it seems clear to me that we need to be on our guard. If someone claims to have signs and wonders happening all day every day in his ministry, I’m not really impressed. I am impressed by his fidelity to Scripture, and quite frankly all of the “miracle workers” I’ve seen on TV tend to be pretty shabby on that score.
The good news about all this is that we don’t need to worry. No matter how powerful or impressive Satan seems to be, he's no match for our Father and Lord. My friends, this is not a battle between two equal and opposite forces. Our God reigns, and soon enough we’re going to see it with our own eyes.
Lord Jesus, please don’t let me fall for any of the Enemy’s tricks. He’s a liar, so I need to quit listening to him. I want to hear your voice, and yours alone.