A New Zealand prime minister once said, “New Zealanders who emigrate to Australia raise the IQs of both countries”. That’s slander; a false spoken malicious statement that damages someone’s reputation.
After Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who couldn’t see or speak, the common people were astonished and wondered whether He was the Messiah. This enraged the Pharisees who claimed He did it in the power of “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Mt. 12:24). That’s slander because Beelzebub is another word for Satan (Mt. 12:26) and Jesus said that He drove out demons in the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:28). So they called the Holy Spirit, Satan or a demon! In saying that someone who was good was evil, they were totally wrong. Whereas as Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees knew about the prophecies concerning the Messiah (Lk. 4:16-21; 7:18-22).
Then Jesus told the Pharisees, “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:31). He repeated, “anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:32). The account is repeated in Mark, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (Mk. 3:29). He said that the reason for this was because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit” (Mk. 3:30). Jesus said this because He “knew their thoughts” and their future behavior (Mt. 12:25). He knew they would continue to be hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent in their opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit. They would stubbornly reject all the evidence before them and be blind to the truth. Forgiveness is impossible as long as one continues to reject the work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. Although the Pharisees observed His powerful miracles, they continued to oppose Christ until they convinced the Romans to crucify Him.
Jesus pointed out the Pharisees inconsistency (Mt. 12:25-29; 33-37). It makes no sense to say He’s a bad tree (demonic) producing good fruit (healings). Using this illustration, blasphemy against the Spirit is saying that Jesus’ good works (by the Spirit) are the fruit of a bad (demonic) tree.
The Greek word translated “blaspheme” (blasphemis, Strong’s #988) means slander; speech that injures another’s good name. The ones who made these accusations were Jewish religious leaders who had travelled all the way from Jerusalem (Mk. 3:22). Because they thought their role was threatened by Jesus, they had plotted how they might kill Him (Mt. 12:14). So they were full of evil intent.
In this context, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean swearing or bad language. As the Holy Spirit’s mission was to testify about Christ – “He will testify about Me” (Jn. 15:16), it was saying that Jesus performed miracles by the power of Satan rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit, and continuing to reject Christ as the Messiah throughout their lifetime.
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Th. 5:19). Also, it doesn’t apply to everyone who openly rejects Christ, because Peter and Paul did this but became leaders in the early church (Jn. 18:15-17; Acts 9:1-2). This sin is not based on a single act, but on someone’s spiritual state.
How does it apply today?
Can this unpardonable sin be committed today? There are two main views on this topic. First, it is not possible in the sense of Jesus being physically on earth performing miracles and being accused of being demon-possessed. Also, it is not mentioned in any of the letters in the Bible written to the church. Furthermore, the accusation of demon possession is rare because today many people reject the idea of a spiritual dimension to life.
Second, the outcome of this sin still occurs today. As long as people reject Christ as Savior, their sins cannot be forgiven and pardoned. Today the only sin that is unforgivable is that of not receiving Jesus Christ as Savior. Permanently rejecting Christ is an unforgivable sin (Jn. 3:18, 36). There is no pardon for a person who dies in unbelief. In this sense, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unbelief that persists throughout life. But only God knows in advance if this will be the case.
If a person continues in apostasy (those in the early church who reverted to Judaism; rejection of Christianity by those who had professed to be Christians; false teachers), they are unforgivable – they can’t be brought to repentance while they continue to reject Christ (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 1 Jn. 5:16-17). They continue “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace”. They trample Christ underfoot, say His death was useless and insult the Holy Spirit. Persistent sin against the trinity leads to spiritual death. Such hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit is similar to the behavior of the Pharisees who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. As they can repent and be forgiven, apostasy is only unpardonable if it continues to death and only God knows this in advance.
As the Holy Spirit’s mission today includes convicting us of our sins (Jn. 16:7-8), is deliberate, hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent rejection of one’s sinfulness equivalent to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
Written, March 2014
Sin is our greatest problem
Our world can be a dangerous place. But sometimes we are unaware and oblivious of the dangers. Using a smart phone can be dangerous if we are not aware of what’s happening around us. After a woman died recently in Sydney when she was run over by a bus, police issued a warning about people using their phones when walking.
Not only are there physical dangers, but there are spiritual dangers. Are we aware of the spiritual dangers we face? Like ignoring the God who made the universe by living as though there is no God? Or are we oblivious of these like someone using a phone when crossing a street? Today in a survey of the first 11 chapters of the Bible we will see that sin against God is our greatest problem, and the source of all our problems.
This passage was compiled and written by Moses 700–2,500 years after the events occurred. Some of this information was passed down from his ancestors and some was revealed to him directly by God. Note that most of this time is covered by two generations – the lifetimes of Adam and Noah cover about 1,900 years. When he wrote it, Moses was “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:21NIV). “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians”, so he could write and keep records (Acts 7:22).
The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt where people worshiped many pagan gods (Polytheism). In order to understand their situation and their world, they needed to know about the earlier history of the world. This helps us understand our world as well.
Genesis covers the origins of the universe, the earth, humanity, marriage, sin, languages, the nations, and the Israelites as God’s chosen people. The first eleven chapters summarize the highlights of world history up to the time of Abraham. This history includes four crises.
A crisis in the first generation
Chapters 1-2 describe the creation of the universe, the earth, the plants and animals, and Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. God spoke and it happened over a period of six days. They were given one restriction: “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:17).
The first crisis occurs when Adam and Eve are tempted by Satan to disobey God (Gen. 3:1-5). What will they do: follow God or Satan? This is a unique situation, because they lived in a perfect world and didn’t have a sinful nature. It was an external temptation. After they chose to disobey God and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they are banished from the Garden of Eden. This first sin affected the whole creation including child birth, relationships between husband and wife, work and agriculture. Life was now a struggle with conflict, suffering, disease, decay, spiritual death and physical death. They went from a life in paradise to a life of problems. Their problems were a consequence of their sin. Sin was their greatest problem and the source of all their problems.
The Bible teaches that we have all inherited this sinful tendency – “everyone has sinned, we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Rom. 3:23NLT). Everyone is guilty; we are all self-centred, and so we were all affected.
However, in the list of God’s punishments there is a promise. He said to Satan “I will put enmity between you and the woman (Eve), and between your offspring and hers; he (Eve’s offspring) will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15NIV). So there is a hint of good news amidst the bad news. A suggestion of an end to the conflict between people and Satan, when Satan is crushed.
It’s a bit like the old game of “Snakes and Ladders” (“Chutes and Ladders in the US”) where you roll a dice to get a number and move that many spaces along the board. When you land on the head of a snake you slide backwards, and when you land on the bottom of a ladder you jump ahead. The consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin hindered their life and moved them away from God, like the snakes hinder a player of snakes and ladders. The sin sequence is: temptation, followed by sin, and spiritual death. But the promise of victory over Satan is like a ladder to help them and move them towards God.
Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed Satan the snake (Gen. 3:12-13). Like Adam and Eve, we often blame our problems on others or our circumstances. Do we realise that our sin is our greatest problem? Do we ignore God by living as though He doesn’t exist?
A crisis in the second generation
Cain and Able were Adam and Eve’s first two sons. Cain becomes jealous of Abel. The second crisis occurs when this develops into hatred and he is tempted to kill Abel. What will he do; follow God or his anger? His parents would have told him what happened after they disobeyed God. But he murders Abel and is banished to be a nomad and “went out from the Lord’s presence” (Gen. 4:1-16). Cain’s problems were a consequence of his sin. This incident would have devastated Adam and Eve. The first boy to grow from infancy to maturity was a murderer! Their greatest problem as a family was caused by Cain’s sin.
But once again, it’s not all bad news. Because Cain was worried about his safety, “the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him” (Gen. 4:15). This is a promise of God’s protection. We can see a pattern developing here. God punishes sin, but provides some relief in the form of a promise.
Also, it is an example of the conflict between Satan’s offspring and Eve’s godly offspring (Gen. 3:15). In this case Cain was Satan’s agent who killed Abel, who is commended for his faith in God (Heb. 11:4; 1 Jn. 3:12). But God replaced Abel with Seth and the godly line of descendants was re-established (Gen. 4:25-26).
So in the history of humanity, Cain is like a snake in the game of snakes and ladders and Seth is like a ladder. Cain’s descendants moved away from God and lived as thought He wasn’t there, while Seth’s descendants moved towards God and followed Him. Who are we like; Cain or Seth (Jude 11)? Cain ignored God, but Seth followed God.
According to the Bible, The fool says …, “There is no God”. They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good” (Ps. 14:1). If we live as though there is no God, then we become god. We claim to know everything everywhere – otherwise God could exist somewhere, but we could be ignorant of Him. The Bible says this is foolish and leads to sinful behavior.
A crisis in the 10th generation
During the 1,600 years after the first crisis, the earth’s population grew, being comprised of cities and societies. We have seen the crises and problems in the early history of our earth for individuals and for a family. Now we will look at society as a whole.
Wickedness increased with time. It became a part of their normal way of life. They were oblivious to its danger. In the days of Noah, society was characterized by violence and corruption (Gen. 6:1-7). “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). It is a crisis where a society of people turns away from God and go their own way. They reject the message of Noah, the “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pt. 2:5). He warned people to turn to God or face God’s judgment. So they had a choice to make.
God’s judgement on their sin was to destroy the original creation with a global flood. The death of these people was a consequence of their sin. Their greatest problem as a society was caused by their sin.
But once again, it’s not all bad news. Noah’s godly family was protected on the ark (Gen. 7:1 – 8:19) and given a promise that the earth would never be destroyed again by a flood (Gen. 8:21 – 9:17). Here we see that God punishes sin, but some are rescued.
Noah’s family is like a ladder in the game of snakes and ladders. They followed God. The rest of the people are like a snake. They moved away from God and lived as thought He wasn’t there. Who are we like; Noah’s family or the rest? The rest ignored God, but Noah’s family followed God. Their choice determined their destiny.
A crisis in the 15th generation
In God’s covenant with Noah, He commanded the people to “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). They obeyed the first part but not the second. They increased in number and built the city of Babel, but resisted being scattered across the earth (Gen. 11:1-4). They proudly built a tower as a monument to celebrate their achievements. This is another crisis where a society of people turns away from God and go their own way.
God’s judgement on their sin was to cause the people to start using different languages (Gen. 11:7-9). Now because they couldn’t understand each other, they scattered across the earth into different nations that spoke different languages. This would have been a tough time. They lost technology and homes that were in the city, becoming nomads and settling in new areas. Some probably lived in caves at this time. The scattering of these people was a consequence of their sin. Their greatest problem as a society was caused by their sin.
Once again we see that God punishes sin, but where is the promise? It’s like a game of snakes and ladders without the ladders. The promise is given to Abraham in the next section of the book of Genesis.
Are we alert or oblivious?
What can we learn from these four crises in early history involving Adam, Cain, the flood and Babel?
At each crisis the people had a choice, but the choice wasn’t unlimited. Because we are finite, we are only free to make decisions within God’s limits and boundaries. God is the only one without boundaries – He is infinite. He gave us a free will and choice, but within certain boundaries. God sets the standard for human behaviour. It is a sin to cross those boundaries.
At each crisis the people had a choice to follow God or Satan. And their choice determined what their life was like afterwards. Likewise, our choices have physical and spiritual consequences. They determine our destiny in many ways.
But in each crisis people acted as though God wasn’t there; they ignored the possibility that they would be punished for disobeying God. They were unaware and oblivious of this danger. It’s like they were asleep or unconscious or there’s a malfunction of the brain and nervous system. My nephew is in a hospital brain injury unit. He can see and hear and is starting to speak a little, but he can’t respond with the rest of his body. If there is danger, he can’t react to it. For our safety, let’s be alert and aware of spiritual dangers instead of being oblivious. The dangerous sin sequence is: temptation, followed by sin, spiritual death, physical death, and eternal death in hell. It’s the snake to hell that Satan promotes. It’s the choice of those oblivious to temptation. Here death is the door to hell.
God made us with a conscience, an inborn sense of right and wrong (Rom. 2:15). It’s like an alarm to remind us when something is wrong. It worked for Adam and Eve when they felt guilty and hid from God after they sinned. Then they confessed their sin. Is your conscience working or broken?
Our greatest danger is spiritual death, which leads to eternal punishment in hell. This is the consequence of our sin if we don’t accept God’s promise of eternal life with Him in heaven (Jn. 3:16). That life is possible because Jesus took the punishment that we deserve when He died on the cross. It is ours if we confess our sin and repent by turning around to follow God. Have you done that?
This salvation is like the promises that we found in the passage. It is an example of God’s grace and mercy and like the ladders in snakes and ladders, which move us closer to God. The salvation sequence is: Conviction of our sinfulness – our conscience alarms, followed by confession, and repentance, followed by God’s forgiveness, spiritual life, physical death, and eternal life in heaven. It’s the ladder to heaven that Jesus Christ provides. It’s the choice of those alert to temptation. Here death is the door to heaven.
According to the Bible, there are no other chances to follow God after we die. We only live once, and die once. We only have one life to follow Jesus and then the opportunity will end. There is no reincarnation. Also, the way of salvation is not through good works, or superior knowledge, or acts of worship or devotion. We can’t get to heaven by being good. It’s not through what we do, but accepting what Jesus has already done for us.
But sin has consequences for Christians as well. We can also be oblivious and live as though God isn’t there. This destroys our fellowship with God. It can be restored if we confess our sin and repent by turning around to follow God once again (1 Jn. 1:9). This pattern is like snakes and ladders, with sin being a snake that moves us away from God and restoration a ladder that moves us towards God. The sequence is: Temptation, followed by sin, loss of fellowship with God, conviction of our sinfulness – our conscience alarms, confession, repentance, followed by God’s forgiveness, and the restoration of fellowship with God. It’s the snake and ladder of daily Christian living. It’s the choice of those oblivious to temptation, but whose conscience alarms later.
Of course it is better if our conscience alarms at the stage of temptation than that at the stage of conviction. So temptation is a critical stage. A healthy alert conscience short circuits the cycle and saves a lot of anguish.
Christians still experience the conflict between Satan and humanity (Gen. 3:15). When we pray it’s good to include spiritual concerns like temptation, sin, conviction, confession, repentance, and salvation, not just physical concerns.
Because we are all sinful, there will be crises in our life. There will be choices to make. In this respect, life is different to the game of snakes and ladders: it’s about choice, not chance. When facing a crisis, we need to realise that sin is our greatest problem. The first step in dealing with a problem or an addiction is to acknowledge that we have a problem. Then we can deal with the sin and get right with God.
Some say Genesis chapters 1-11 is just a story to illustrate that God made the world. It really took billions of years, not six days. It’s not real history. It’s a different genre. Adam and Eve didn’t exist, there was no global flood. The genealogies aren’t true. It’s an ancient myth. But such a viewpoint undermines the whole Bible. This part of Genesis is quoted extensively by both Jesus and Paul. Adam and Noah are both mentioned 8 times in the New Testament. They were real people.
So let’s remember these lessons from the early chapters of Genesis. Let’s be alert and aware of our sinfulness and not oblivious like someone using a smart phone when crossing a street. We ignore it at our peril because God punishes sinners. But it’s not all bad news, the good news is that God promised to help sinners like us and the rest of the Bible describes how He did it.
Let’s be like Noah’s family and make good choices and follow the God who made the universe, instead of living like He isn’t there. Realizing that sin is our greatest problem and Jesus is God’s solution.
Written, February 2104
Last time we looked at “Facing trials”. This time it’s ‘“Facing temptations”. The difference between the two is that trials come from an external source, whereas temptations come from within us. Trials test our Christian faith and can produce Christ-likeness, whereas temptations can lead to sinful behaviour and loss of fellowship with God and other people.
We all face temptations from time to time. The Bible says that God doesn’t cause temptations. We shouldn’t blame God for them. Instead they come from the human mind.
The source and process of temptation is described by James: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (Jas. 1:13-14NIV).
Temptation begins as an “evil desire” in our mind. Jesus said that “evil thoughts” lead to sin (Mt. 15:18-20). Since the fall of humanity into sin we have a tendency towards evil desires. We are now self-centred.
Satan is called the tempter (Mt. 4:3; 1 Th. 3:5). He tempts us in order to make us fail (1 Cor. 7:5). He entices us like a fisherman entices fish with bait or a lure. Satan is deceitful and seductive. He is our enemy (1 Ti. 5:14; 1 Pt. 5:8).
We are all tempted. That’s why the Bible warns, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16). Satan uses what we see. We are selfish. We choose to please ourselves instead of pleasing God.
We can respond to temptation in two ways.
The first is to yield to temptation like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-13) and like when David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed (2 Sam. 11:2-5).
If temptation is not resisted immediately, it leads to sinful behaviour. If we think about a sin long enough, we will carry out that sin. It’s inevitable just like sexual intercourse can lead to the birth of a child. The Bible says, “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas 1:15).
The other response is to resist temptation like Joseph with Potiphar’s wife (Gen 39:7-12) and Jesus with Satan (Mt. 4:1-11).
Jesus said, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Mk. 14:38). We are weak and prone to sin. Do we pray for God to help us not to fall into sin by yielding to temptation? The Lord’s prayer says, “Don’t let us yield to temptation” (Lk. 11:4 NLT).
We are told to put on God’s armor so we can stand against Satan’s temptations (Eph. 6:10-18). And the Israelites knew, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). The truths of Scripture in our mind can protect us from yielding to temptation.
We have a choice. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Do we submit to God or Satan? Do we resist Satan or God?
Look for God’s way out. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:12-13).
Lessons for us
So, don’t blame God for temptation. Temptations come from Satan and our sinful nature.
Because the Lord is stronger than Satan, with His help we can resist Satan’s temptations.
Our mind is important. What do we think about? This has a strong influence on our speech and behaviour. Don’t dwell on evil thoughts. Instead, replace them with, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Are the truths of Scripture planted in our mind?
Written, Sep 2013
We know very little about what was said to Adam and Eve before the fall into sin, but Scripture contains what we need to know about the past. God commanded Adam and Eve, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:16-17NIV). With this choice, there is a consequence: disobedience leads to death. We know that Eve was aware of the command and the consequence because she repeated it to the serpent (Gen. 3:2-3). “When you eat from it you will certainly die” is a warning. She knew that it was something to be avoided. It was not trivial but important – a life and death matter. Obviously the disadvantages and impact of spiritual and physical death must have been explained to Adam and Eve at the time.
God gave them enough information so that they could make an informed choice, although we have no evidence that Satan was mentioned. If the warning had been more explicit, then their free will may have been eroded.
So God did warn them about not eating the fruit. He said, don’t do it!
Written, January 2012
The answer to this question depends on the source of temptation and the fact that angels and people have a free will.
Source of temptation
The steps from temptation to sinful behaviour and then to death are described as, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:13-15NIV). So, a temptation to sin doesn’t come from God. Although God can test our faith, He never tempts us to sin. He has no dealings with evil. Temptation is described as our “own evil desire”, which comes from our inner sinful nature (Mt. 15:19). The temptation isn’t necessarily evil , unless we dwell on it until it leads to sinful behaviour, like conception leads to the birth of a child. Jesus was tempted, but He didn’t sin (Mt. 4:1-11).
But Adam and Eve didn’t have a sinful nature and lived in a perfect environment. So who was the source of their temptation to sin? Jesus was tempted although He didn’t have a sinful nature (Heb. 4:15). He was tempted by Satan (Mt. 4:1-11). In Adam and Eve’s case it was the serpent, which is one of Satan’s names (Gen. 3:1-5; Rev. 12:9; 20:2). So Satan tempted Adam and Eve and this lead to them disobeying God. Satan is the tempter (1 Th. 3:5).
But did God cause Satan to tempt Adam and Eve?
God commanded Adam and Eve, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:16-17). They were given a choice to obey God or to disobey Him; they had a “free will”. In order to be free to follow or ignore God, we have to be able to make choices. A loving relationship requires the freedom to make choices. They chose to accept Satan’s temptation instead of rejecting it. This was their own decision, even though Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the snake (Gen. 3:11-13). God did not create evil, but He made people with a free will, and therefore with a potential for good and evil.
Angels, including Satan, didn’t have a sinful nature and lived in a perfect environment. So who was the source of their temptation to sin? Satan was created “blameless”; he was sinless (Ezek. 28:15). But because of pride and arrogance he desired to rule the universe like God (Isa. 14:13-14; Ezek. 28:17). Where did this pride and arrogance come from? He was made perfect, so God can’t be blamed: “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you” (Ezek. 28:15). It was his own choice. Angels were also given a choice to serve God or not; they had a “free will”. Satan was the first one to oppose God and he lead an angelic rebellion against God (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 12:7). God did not create evil, but He made angels with a free will, and therefore with a potential for good and evil.
Clearly God desired angels and people that would choose to follow Him. This also means that some angels and some people will choose to reject Him. Satan’s choice led to demons in the angelic world and evil in the universe. So God didn’t cause Satan to tempt Adam and Eve, it was Satan’s choice.
In God’s love and omniscience, He knew Adam and Eve would sin, and He already had a plan in place to restore them to fellowship when they did. Although God planned to send Jesus to die for their sin, He didn’t cause them to sin. Satan rebelled by choice, he then tempted other angels to rebel and then tempted Eve and Adam and they sinned by their choice. We in turn are also tempted by Satan and by our sinful nature inherited from Adam and Eve, but we sin by our own choice.
Written, January 2012
What is a deliverance ministry?
A deliverance ministry is an activity or group that aims to release people from the influence of demons (Mt. 25:41). It is based on the belief that problems are caused by demons influencing the body or soul. These problems include: physical infirmities, emotional problems, abuse, torment, mental illness, recurring sins, addictions, financial problems, fear, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, lust, pornography, and homosexuality.
A deliverance session usually involves a team of people taking authority over Satan and his demons, using the name of Jesus Christ. It often includes prayer: to bind the demons; to loose God’s plans for deliverance; for the blood of Jesus to provide protection; for guidance; to invite the Lord to heal and deliver. It also includes: confessing and renouncing specific sins; taking authority in Christ over demons and commanding them to depart; reading passages from the Scripture that support the believer’s authority over evil; asking the Lord to heal past emotional, spiritual or physical wounds that may be footholds for the current oppression; and prayer for severing sinful connections with other people, demons or objects. Deliverance may also involve the use of spiritual gifts such as prophecy, tongues and a word of knowledge.
Deliverance ministries became more prevalent after the release of the film “The Exorcist” in 1973, as it created interest in casting out demons. Also, interest in casting out demons came with the rise of the charismatic movement.
Is it scriptural?
Jesus and the twelve apostles certainly cast out demons: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Lk. 9:1-2 niv). Philip, the evangelist, and Paul cast out demons (Acts 8:7; 16:18; 19:11-12). There are no examples in the Bible of Christians being possessed by a demon, although they may be afflicted by Satan and demons (Lk. 13:16; 2 Cor. 12:7). The woman who had been bound by Satan for 18 years was healed, whereas Paul’s “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7) was not healed. There is no indication in the New Testament that Christians might have to deal with their own sin or the sin of another Christian by casting out a demon and there are no examples in Scripture of Christians casting demons out of other Christians.
Deliverance ministries are usually based on instances of exorcism in the gospels and Acts. Three verses that are commonly used to justify them are as follows:
“Calling the Twelve to Him, He sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits” (Mk. 6:7).
“These signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons” (Mk 16:17).
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (Jas. 5:16).
It is not clear that the signs, wonders and miracles described in the gospels and Acts are available to Christians today. Instead, they were God’s confirmation of the ministry of Christ and the early Church (Heb. 2:3-4). Also, in context, the verses above do not support deliverance ministry. For example, Mark 6:7 was addressed to the apostles, who were a distinct group among the early believers (1 Cor. 12:28-29). The statement in Mark 16:17 is followed by, “they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all” (Mk. 16:18). Clearly, this occurred in the early Church, but we should not expect it today. The context of James 5:13-20 is the restoration of a backslider. In this case, physical healing is connected with forgiveness of sins, so presumably this sickness was a result of a sin, not demon influence. The meaning of James 5:16 is that when we sin against someone else, we should be prompt to confess this sin to the person we have wronged.
The idea of needing deliverance from demons goes against the fact that demons have no power other than that given them by God (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). We are commanded to fear God, not demons. God controls the world, demons do not (Mt. 4:8-11). They can’t separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38).
As Christians we should not become obsessed with Satan or demons and blame outside influences for our problems instead of our own sinful nature. This makes it difficult to take responsibility for our behavior and leads to seeking deliverance instead of repentance. It also makes us feel incapable of resisting our spiritual enemy and needing to rely on others for deliverance.
Should I get involved?
If we wish to live victorious lives and overcome Satan, we need to obey the Scriptures and apply their principles with wisdom to our lives (Rom. 16:19-20). Satan is not crushed under our feet by miracles or a deliverance ministry.
In the Old Testament, God prohibited His followers from seeking to make contact with demons (Lev. 19:26,31; 20:6,27; Dt. 18:9-13; Jer. 27:9-10). According to the New Testament, every Christian is capable of resisting Satan through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 10:13; Eph. 6:11; 1 Pet. 5:6-11). “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
Instead of relying on a deliverance ministry to bring wholeness to our lives, we should pray daily that God may “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Mt. 6:13), and stand against the enemy by living in the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Eph. 6:10-20).
Published, April 2009
An Easter thought
I spent Easter in the mountains with plenty of trees and birds. Two of the birds, the kookaburra and the raven reminded me of Christ’s victory over Satan. They are birds of prey, each with a distinctive call.
The Australian raven is glossy black with a fierce, menacing look. It has a high-pitched wail “aah-aah-aah-aaaahh.” Some find this call threatening. Ravens prey on reptiles, rabbits, chickens, ducklings, refuse and carrion. They can also hasten the death of weak sheep and lambs.
The laughing kookaburra is the world’s largest kingfisher. It has a loud chuckling laugh, “koo-koo-koo-koo-koo-kaa-kaa-kaa.” When the kookaburra laughs, it’s claiming a territory to share with family members. It lives mainly on insects, worms, lizards, frogs, mice and small birds. Kookaburras can also kill snakes.
The raven reminds me of Satan. Its black color symbolizes darkness and evil, and it attacks weak sheep and lambs. The Bible uses sheep and lambs as metaphors for people (Mk. 6:34; Jn. 10:1-18, 27-30; 21:15-17; 1 Pet. 2:25). The raven also reminds me that Satan stalks and attacks people like an animal stalks and attacks its prey (1 Pet. 5:8).
The kookaburra reminds me of Jesus. It attacks and kills snakes. In the Bible snakes are a metaphor for Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). By His death and resurrection, Christ destroyed Satan, like a kookaburra destroys a snake (Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:14). In fact, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8 NIV). Satan has been fatally wounded and defeated, to be tormented forever in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:7).
May this brief look at the raven and the kookaburra help us to be more aware of Satan’s schemes, and to celebrate Christ’s victory.
Satan’s Invisible Agents
Many people doubt the existence of demons or evil spirits, because they believe in a scientific view of the world. They assume the physical world is all that exists, as only it can be observed and measured by scientific methods. But what if a reality exists outside the world of science? Our Christian faith believes in such a reality because after His resurrection and ascension Jesus Christ lived in the unseen world which science cannot sense in any way. Such unbelief is nothing new; the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, angels or demons (Acts 23:8).
The Unseen World
The Bible is the only reliable source of information about demons and the unseen world. It teaches that God’s creation has two components: visible and invisible (Col. 1:16). The unseen spiritual part of our world is like an extra dimension which we can’t detect with our physical senses. The word translated “spirit” in the New Testament is the same Greek word as “wind,” which is used to describe things that are invisible and powerful. By faith we can be “certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1 NIV).
The unseen world is inhabited by personalities with intelligence, emotions and wills; not “forces” or “influences.” It is comprised of two components; the divine and the created. The triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the divine inhabitants of the unseen world (Jn. 4:24). The created inhabitants of the unseen world are: angels who are God’s agents that serve God and His followers (Heb. 1:14); Satan who opposes God and His followers (1 Pet. 5:8); demons who are Satan’s agents; and human spirits which are the eternal part of our being (2 Cor. 4:18). Note that demons are not divine and they are not human spirits.
The unseen world is eternal, it will never end: “What is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). Demons are immortal. Their destiny is eternal torment in the lake of fire (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).
Demons are Satan’s angels and Satan is described as the “prince of demons” (Mt. 12:24; 25:41). Demons share some things in common with angels and with Satan. They were created as God’s angels, but they followed Satan and rebelled against God. There are many references to demons in the Bible. Demons are always associated with evil because they work as Satan’s agents.
Demons have greater power and knowledge than humans, but less than God their creator. They were created as angels and because they have existed since the creation of the world, they have much more experience than we do.
Demons are not just superstitious explanations for an unknown disease. A clear distinction is made in the Bible between disease and demons. For example, Jesus told the apostles to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (Mt. 10:8). When demon activity is associated with ill health, a clear distinction is made between the two.
Demons are not spirits of the dead. Human spirits are separate from demons. After the rich man and Lazarus died, their spirits were in a place of torment and in paradise (Lk. 16:19-31).
Agents work in various ways. Satan can work in secret as an “angel of light” and a “deceiver.” This is the main way he works today, because Satan and demons want us to believe that they don’t exist. This helps them to achieve many of their purposes because people are unaware of their activity. Satan and demons can also work in an obvious fashion as a “roaring lion” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Four arenas where demons are particularly active as agents of Satan are: idolatry and false beliefs, the occult, demon possession, and the apocalypse.
Idolatry And False Beliefs
Idolatry is linked with demons: “The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons” (1 Cor. 10:20). It seems as though demons use idolatry to control unbelievers. So those who are involved with idolatry of any kind are involved with demons and are influenced by demons.
Paul wrote, “Some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). In this case people were being encouraged not to marry and not to eat certain foods. This was a false belief or philosophy that was deceiving people at that time. It originated from demons who inspired the hypocritical false teachers to spread these false beliefs. Demons are the power behind false beliefs.
Demons are also involved in the occult. The word “occult” means hidden, secret, dark, mysterious and concealed. This is Satan and his demons deceiving as an “angel of light.” The occult involves predicting the future by means such as astrology, horoscopes, visions, or crystal balls. It also involves magic such as charms, curses, spells and attempts to communicate with the dead through such means as seances in which a demon may be disguised as the spirit of a person who is dead.
Demons have superhuman knowledge and intelligence. The slave girl who was possessed by a demon could foretell the future (Acts 16:16). This shows that mediums can get information from demons.
Demons desire to live in people (Mt. 12:43-45). Demon possession occurs when one or more demons inhabit the body of a person and take control of him/her. It was particularly evident in the Gospels and Acts. Satan was particularly active in opposing Jesus Christ and the early Church. Our struggle against demons is described as being “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). There is not one example in the Bible of a Christian being possessed by demons, although they may be tempted and afflicted by Satan and by demons (Lk. 13:16; 2 Cor.12:7). However, demons can promote jealousy, selfishness, pride and disorder (Jas. 3:14-16).
The man who lived in the tombs was demon possessed (Mk. 5:1-15). His symptoms were caused by an evil spirit, not by an illness (Mk. 5:2). He had unusual physical strength: “No one could bind him any more” (Mk. 5:2-3). He was isolated from society, living in the tombs. He had a spilt personalty; he ran to Jesus at first, but then he cried out in fear (Mk. 5:6-7). He resisted Christ. He had clairvoyant powers; he knew who Jesus was even though he was isolated from the community. The demons spoke through him; maybe in a different voice or a different language (Mk. 5:7-9). These show the characteristics of demon possession. They include opposition to Christianity. On this occasion, Jesus caused the demons to transfer into a herd of pigs (Mk. 5:13). From this episode we see that demons have names, they have intelligence, they have emotions and they have a will.
In another instance, demon possession is associated with physical ailments such as lack of sight and lack of speech (Mt. 12:22-29). When Jesus healed the man, the people thought He was the promised Messiah. They knew that this act indicated that Jesus was more than just a human being. Jesus claimed that the demons were driven out “by the Spirit of God” (Mt. 12:28). We see that Christ’s will prevails over the demons. His power was strong evidence of His deity, as the Trinity is the only power that is stronger than Satan and his demons.
There are instances of others casting out demons. Jesus gave His disciples “authority over evil spirits” and they drove out many demons (Mk. 6:7,13). Of course it didn’t always work for them. The reasons given were: “because you have so little faith,” and “this kind can come out only by prayer” (Mt. 17:14-21; Mk. 9:14-29). They needed to have the power of God working through them to cast out demons.
Philip cast out demons (Acts 8:7), and Paul said to a demon in a girl who could predict the future, “‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ … at that moment the spirit left her” (Acts 16:16-19). When some Jews imitated Paul they failed to cast out demons, which indicates that the power of God was not working through them (Acts 19:13-16).
Satan and the demons are revealed as a “roaring lion” in the end times. We read of people who “did not stop worshiping demons and idols” (Rev. 9:20). Here we see that demons are associated with idolatry once again. The other behaviors associated with worshiping demons were murder, magic arts, sexual immorality and theft (Rev. 9:21). Three evil spirits are described as “spirits of demons performing miraculous signs” that gather armies for the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-14). These demons have great power as they are associated with miracles.
Babylon the Great, the evil system that killed many believers, is called “a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit” (Rev. 17:6; 18:2,24). Demons are influencing any people that persecute believers.
God’s Power Over Demons
As Satan’s agents, demons are strong influences in the unseen world. They promote Satan’s strategies in his ongoing battle against God and believers. There is a spiritual war going on in the unseen world around us even though we may not be aware of it. In our response to this we need to be aware of the following:
Christ’s Victory – The Son of God appeared “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8). He died “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). The demons are working for Satan, but Christ is destroying Satan. God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (Col. 1:13). Christians have changed sides, from Satan’s to Christ’s kingdom.
Christ’s Power – Only God’s power can defeat demons. “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). Do we really believe that one believer and Jesus are stronger than any other force in the universe? When we fear the evil about us we need to realize that we have access to a greater strength than the demons do. “If God is for us, who can be against us? … We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither … angels nor demons … nor any powers … will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:31-39). “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (Eph. 6:10). Christ’s power is the only power that is stronger than that of Satan and his demons.
Delegated Authority – There are two Greek words for power: “exousia” means “delegated power or authority” while “dunamis” means “inherent power.” As Jesus subjected Himself to the limitations of humanity, He didn’t use His inherent power, but exercised the authority He received from God the Father (Acts 2:22). He gave His disciples a similar delegated authority/power to cast out demons (Mt. 10:1). They reported: “‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name.’ He replied, … ‘I have given you authority … to overcome all the power of the enemy … However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’” (Lk. 10:17-20). Similarly, God has given believers authority over Satan and demons, provided we use His weapons His way (Eph. 6:10-18). But our salvation is much more important than any power over demons.
Our Response To Demons
First, we need to pray before we act. We need to resist the enemy in the unseen world, that’s where the real battle is happening. God’s kingdom is advanced through God and this requires prayer and Spirit-led action.
Second, we need to resist the enemy by using God’s resources. Our weapons should be directed at Satan, demons and the issues involved, not at people: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12). Otherwise we are not building up the kingdom of God or tearing down the kingdom of Satan. Release any anger about sin and Satan in prayer. Our weapons are:
Jesus’ Name – This carries the victory of the cross and the resurrection. But we must be wholly committed to Jesus to use it effectively.
God’s Word – Claim Christ’s victory and power. Remind the demons of the “eternal fire” prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41). “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God … Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (1 Jn. 4:1-3). Get help from a believer with the gift of “distinguishing between spirits” (1 Cor. 12:10).
The Holy Spirit’s Power – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit has a greater influence on people and circumstances than we do.
Jesus’ Blood – Believers can overcome Satan and demons “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev.12:11). Remind Satan and the demons of Christ’s victory and their defeat at the crucifixion.
The Truth – Tell them about God and be honest about ourselves.
Believers don’t have to fear Satan and his demons. We have been rescued from their dominion of darkness, sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13) and provided with the resources to stand against them. We are more than conquerors through Christ. If God is for us, who can be against us?
See the other article in this series:
– The unseen world of angels
Many think that Satan is a myth, but we know he is real. That is why we must stay awake and be on our guard against him.
Satan is our enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8 NIV). In a battle it helps to know the enemy. For example, when playing a computer game, advice from someone who has already played it can be a great help. After we have experience and know what to anticipate, we are more likely to be successful at the game.
In this article we’ll look at Satan’s power, his objectives, his strategies and our defenses against him. This is important because if we are not aware of his schemes he will outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11).
Although Satan has been cast from God’s presence, he is still powerful. He is the ruler of demons (Mt. 12:24). The demons are fallen angels who follow Satan and who oppose believers (Eph. 6:12). Satan is a great power in the unseen spiritual world. He is the ruler of the sinful world system (Jn. 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). He dominates unbelievers: “The whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). He has his own kingdom, a vast sphere of influence in our world. He is respected by angels. The archangel Michael “did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’” (Jude 9). Likewise, we should take Satan seriously; he is no myth or joke.
Fortunately, Satan’s power is limited by God. In Job’s case, God controlled what he could and could not do ((Job 1:12; 2:6). Jesus prayed that God protect his disciples from “the evil one” (Jn. 17:15), so the devil can’t touch believers without God’s permission (1 Jn. 5:18). He has power, but God’s is greater.
Satan has a major influence in the world. His main objective is to oppose God and oppose God’s purposes. This started in the beginning and has continued through history. Even though Christ is victorious over Satan, he is still opposing God’s purposes in this world. His character is the opposite of God’s. He’s full of darkness, not light (Acts 26:18); he promotes hate, not love (1 Jn. 3:7-15); he brings death, not life (Heb. 2:15).
When we hear about the “forces of evil” in the world, undoubtedly Satan is still active today. Here are three of his more specific objectives. First, he works to deceive nations (Rev. 20:3,7). Apparently, he has been successful in this as he was able to offer Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” (Mt. 4:8-9). In fact, he “leads the whole world astray” (Rev. 12:9). Second, he works to control unbelievers. Satan uses his power to control unbelievers by trapping them and keeping them captive (Acts 26:18; 2 Tim. 2:26; 1 Jn. 5:19). Meanwhile, these people are deceived and unaware of his activities. Third, he works to destroy believers and Christianity. We do not fight against a human enemy, but against Satan and his demons in the unseen world (Eph. 6:12). Our enemy is the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to attack (1 Pet. 5:8). He wants believers to be ineffective.
Satan uses three strategies in his battle. First, he attacks God’s character and His control. From the beginning Satan misquoted God when he asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Gen 3:1-5). Then he denied that God had said they would surely die. He has denigrated God, Christ and the Bible throughout history.
Second, he prevents acceptance of the truth. Satan prevents others from accepting the truth by blinding their minds: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18). In the parable of the sower, Satan “takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Lk. 8:12). He gives unbelievers a false sense of security. He is like an evil man who drugs his victims (Lk. 11:21).
Third, Satan promotes sin within our world. He “has been sinning from the beginning” (1 Jn. 3:8). Here are some of his weapons:
False beliefs: Satan deceives people so they believe lies, such as atheism, agnosticism, humanism and evolution (2 Th. 2:11). These often deny the reality of sin and evil.
False religions: In addition to denying the truth, Satan also promotes false religions, such as idolatry, the occult (Rev. 2:14) and all faiths not consistent with the Bible.
False lifestyles: Satan tempts people to follow the world’s sinful ways, including a self-centered lifestyle of pleasure, possessions, position and power (Mt. 13:22; 1 Jn. 2:15-17).
Demonic leaders: Satan uses powerful rulers for his ends. The Roman emperor Nero persecuted believers in the early Church. Some nations persecute Christians today. The anti-christ will persecute them in the future (2 Th. 2:3-12).
Destabilized society: Satan works to destabilize God’s plan for government, law and order (Rom. 13:1-2). He also works to breakdown marriages and families. God hates his activities (Mal. 2:16).
Satan also uses many strategies to divert believers from following the Lord (Lk. 14:27). Here are some of them: discrediting the Bible (Lk. 4:1-13); tempting them to lie, to lust, to seek human wisdom (Acts 5:3; 1 Cor. 7:5; Mt. 16:23); pride (1 Pet. 5:5); doubt (Gen. 3:1-5); discouragement and depression (1 Pet. 5:7); denial (Lk. 22:31,57); division (Eph. 4:3; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:4; 6:6-7); false doctrine (1 Tim. 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:1); false leaders (2 Cor. 11:13-15); persecution (2 Cor. 11:23-25). Satan reminds God of our sins and imperfections (Rev. 12:10). But Christ, “speaks to the Father in our defense” (1 Jn. 2:1).
Christians are told to “put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:9-10). To withstand Satan we need to do four things: recognize, remember, resist and respond.
First, we need to recognize that our struggle is not against humans but against Satan and his demons in the unseen world (Eph. 6:12). We are warned to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:9). Many think that Satan is a myth, but we know he is real. That is why we must stay awake and be on our guard against him.
Second, we need to remember that while Satan and his demons are always on the prowl, Christ is already the victor. He is all powerful and has already defeated and judged Satan. He controls all things and cares for us. We also need to remember our position: seated with Him in heaven (Eph. 2:6). His work is finished and we are secure. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). And Christ prays for our protection from Satan (Jn. 17:15).
Third, we need to resist Satan and his tricks. “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes … stand your ground … stand firm” (Eph. 6:11,13,14). “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Our resistance needs to be active. This is war! Satan wants us to have a false sense of peace, but we are really on the front line. If we sleep, Satan will have us for breakfast!
Fourth, we need to respond, not with physical weapons, but with “divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). Our spiritual weapons are listed in Ephesians 6:13-18. “Put on the full armor of God … the belt of truth … the breastplate of righteousness … your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace … the shield of faith … the helmet of salvation … the sword of the Spirit. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” to headquarters. To overcome the enemy, we need to be in constant communication with our Leader.
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
See the other article in this series:
– Satan. Part 1: Knowing our enemy
The conflict between good and evil is a major theme of the Bible. It can be traced from the temptation of Adam and Eve in the beginning of the Bible to the punishment in the lake of fire at its end (Gen. 3:1-7; Rev. 20:10,15). Let’s look at the source, course and destiny of evil.
Source Of Evil
Let’s begin by looking at the source of evil in our world. Many believe that Satan, or the devil, is just a myth, a superstitious belief from the pre-scientific age to explain things people couldn’t understand, such as disease and disaster. This belief is supported by mythic images of Satan as a red-horned creature holding a three-pronged fork. But the Bible says he’s a real, evil personality.
Jesus believed in a personal devil. He was tempted by him in the desert with clever questions (Mt. 4:1-11). In the parable of the sower, the birds eating the seeds illustrated “the evil one” snatching away the message about God’s kingdom (Mt. 13:19). Satan is not a myth, not a clever story about someone who doesn’t really exist! He is not even merely a “virtual reality” of computer games involving a battle against evil. Satan is a real personality, just as the Bible tells us.
The Bible indicates that he was closely associated with angels, and battled with angels in heaven (Job 1:6; 2:1; Rev. 12:7-9). Angels are God’s invisible agents created to inhabit the unseen part of our world (Col. 1:16). The Bible is our only reliable source of information about Satan and the unseen world. How did evil enter God’s perfect world?
We must understand that there is only one God – and disease, sin, death and the devil are under His authority. For example, God told Satan what He could and could not do to Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). Satan was one of God’s creations, who subsequently chose to oppose Him. This is the best explanation of the origin of evil. The personalities in God’s creation had free will. Angels and people had a choice; they were not clones or robots. God did not create evil, but He made creatures with free will, and therefore with a potential for good and evil.
There are some clues in the Bible about the source of evil. Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk. 10:18 niv). He said this probably as a warning to the disciples against pride and arrogance, as the Jews knew from the Old Testament that Satan fell because of pride (Isa. 14:12-15). In the future there will be a war in heaven between God’s angels and Satan’s demons (Rev. 12:7).
Two striking passages in the Old Testament also seem to refer to Satan. First, the doom of the city of Tyre was prophesied (Ezek. 26-28). It was an island northwest of Israel ruled by the Phoenicians – one of the richest, most luxurious, powerful and arrogant kingdoms. A parallel is drawn between the ruler of Tyre – described as proud and arrogant – and the king of Tyre – described in symbolic language as being created as a guardian angel (Ezek. 28:5-6,13-14). Then Ezekiel 28:15 says, “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.” This could indicate that Satan was created as a perfect angel who became wicked. The reason given was that “your heart became proud” (Ezek. 28:17). This passage also implies that the ruler of Tyre was influenced by Satan, as was Peter when he hindered the Lord (Mt. 16:23).
Second, the doom of Babylon is foretold in Isaiah 13-14. Babylon was a city of luxury and splendor on the Euphrates river. It was the largest city of that time. In this passage, the King of Babylon could also refer to Satan. His pride and ambition to be like God is illustrated in his statement that “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13-14). The five “”I wills” suggest that because Satan wanted to be like God, he rebelled against the One he originally served. As a result, he was judged by God (Isa. 14:15).
Tyre and Babylon were symbols of the power of Satan and his forces. They suggest that pride and ambition were the reasons for Satan’s revolt.
Course Of Evil
Now let’s look at the course of evil in our world. One way to look at this is to see how the Bible refers to Satan. His many names indicate his character and activity. Some of the angels joined him in his rebellion against God, and he continues to seek followers today. There is a continuing war in the unseen world, between God and Satan, for the allegiance of humanity.
Satan is described as the “prince of demons,” “prince of this world,” “god of this age” and “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Mt. 12:24; Jn. 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). These are powerful titles for a force to be contended with. Don’t be deceived – Satan has great power.
The things Satan does are indicated by his names. Revelation 12:9 contains four of them: “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” “Satan” is an Aramaic word meaning adversary, opposer or enemy. “Devil” means accuser, slanderer. The other descriptors are metaphoric: he is deceitful like a “serpent” and awesome like a “dragon.” He also causes terror like a “roaring lion” and can disguise himself as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14; 1 Pet. 5:8). He is a “liar,” “tempter,” “accuser,” “deceiver,” “murderer” and “destroyer” (Mt. 4:3; Jn. 8:44: Rev. 9:11; 12:10; 20:3). What a picture of evil! Indeed, he is “the evil one” and the sinful world is under his power and control (Jn. 17:15; 1 Jn. 5:19).
The Garden was the perfect environment, a paradise. Here God gave Adam and Eve one test: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16). As a subtle tempter, Satan, disguised as a snake, encouraged disobedience to God to get people under his control. He attacked the body, the mind and ambition. Hunger is a natural desire, and Eve was tempted when she saw that “the fruit of the tree was good for food.” He also asked, “Did God really say …?” arousing in her mind curiosity and confusion so she would doubt God’s word. Then he sowed the seeds of ambition: “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:6,1,5).
As soon as Eve succumbed, the battle was lost. In this first encounter with mankind, evil prevailed. The consequence was that sin spread to Adam and his descendants. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God; they were afraid; they blamed others and God for what happened; judgment was given to the snake, the woman and the man; and the penalty was death and separation from God (Gen. 3:6,8,10, 12-13,14-19).
Jesus is compared to Adam and referred to as the “second man” (1 Cor. 15:47). This was Satan’s chance to tempt someone without a sinful nature. Their confrontation occurred in the desert (Mt. 4:1-11). The tempter didn’t need to disguise himself this time, because both parties knew what was happening. Jesus’ mission was “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8), while Satan’s was to get Him to disobey God’s will.
Satan’s attack was similar to that in Eden: he attacked the body, the mind and ambition. Knowing Jesus was hungry, he asked him to change stones into bread, and use His divine power to satisfy His need. Then he urged Jesus to jump to fame from atop the temple. Satan even quoted Scripture (Mt. 4:6). Jesus replied that this would be testing God, not trusting God. Finally, Satan offered Him the world’s kingdoms – a shortcut to dominion. This aspiration was the source of Satan’s fall; he wanted what God had. He offered Jesus the kingdoms without going the way of the cross or the way of the servant.
We can learn much from our Lord’s victory over Satan. He did it in the power of the Spirit (Lk. 4:1). Satan’s names show that he has great power, but Jesus demonstrated that God’s power is much greater. Jesus also showed trust, obedience and unselfishness. He used the Scriptures and was not afraid of Satan. He was decisive, and didn’t negotiate.
Christ’s victory over Satan was finalized at the cross where He died and rose again (Jn. 12:31). He was obedient as a humble servant (Phil. 2:6-8). In taking upon Himself the sin of the whole world, Christ righted the rebelliousness of Adam and Eve, and all mankind (Rom. 5:12-21). He defeated death by the resurrection: He too shared in our humanity, “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). So believers no longer need to fear death.
The victory has been achieved over Satan and he is condemned, but God’s judgment has not yet been administered (Jn. 16:11). The enemy is still active. He still opposes God’s ways and causes much suffering in our world – and he often seems to have the upper hand.
Destiny Of Evil
Satan’s destiny is sure. He is a defeated foe who will be dealt with by God’s angels and evicted from his place in the unseen world (Rev. 12: 7-12). Later he will be bound by an angel and unable to deceive anyone for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3). Then we read of Satan’s final attack, when he is released for a time and allowed to deceive the nations and to prepare to attack God’s people (Rev. 20:7-10). But finally evil is judged and Satan is “thrown into the lake of burning sulfur” to be “tormented day and night for ever and ever.” This is the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). Anyone whose name is not recorded in the Book of Life, is also thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). All who follow Satan will share in his doom.
The history of the battle against evil began with Satan as an angel serving God. He let pride and ambition fill him. He wanted to be like God. Then he tricked Adam and Eve into disobeying God, which led to a world of sin, disease and death. Christ came as the only power stronger than Satan. His death and resurrection destroyed Satan’s plan to dominate the world. The final judgment for Satan and his followers is eternal torment.
The good news for those who trust Christ is that “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). The triune God is greater than Satan and is the only source of victory over evil.
Published: July 2004
See the other article in this series:
– Satan. Part 2: Knowing his strategies