A lot of times when you see Satan portrayed, he looks something like this: red, horned, and terrifying. And although there’s no real reason that I am aware of to assume that Satan is a certain color or that he has horns, there is reason to depict him in a frightening fashion—1 Peter 5.8 refers to him as a “…roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” That is certainly a frightening idea, so the motivation to depict Satan as some sort of terrifying monster makes a lot of sense.
But perhaps we should be asking a different question. Rather than “What does Satan look like?”, maybe a better question is, “How does Satan appear?”, because if Satan always appeared as a terrifying monster who was eager to devour us, I think we’d do a better job of staying away from him.
Unfortunately though, that’s not how he usually appears. Instead, he’s the crafty serpent in Genesis who entices Eve to sin by lying to her and seeming to have her best interests at heart (Don’t you want to be more like God? Then eat the fruit from this tree…).
Later on, when he tempts Jesus, he doesn’t really come across as that bad of a guy. At least the first two of the things he tries to get Jesus to do don’t seem too bad, and he even uses Scripture to try to convince Jesus. Thankfully, unlike Eve, Jesus sees right through Satan, will have nothing to do with him, and once again serves as an example for us to follow.
We have to get beyond the idea of Satan has a repulsive monster if we can ever hope to discern his more subtle appearances. Sometimes Satan doesn’t look like a roaring lion; sometimes he isn’t scary. Sometimes he isn’t repulsive at all and in fact, in the heat of the moment, what he has to offer might seem more attractive than anything else in the world. But it’s exactly at those times—when Satan makes an appearance in an enticing offer to sin, or bad advice on the lips of a trusted friend, or the seeming importance of all that “the world” has to offer—that he is at his most dangerous.