Anatoli Bugorski, the Man Who Put His Head Inside a Particle Accelerator — and Survived


In the ’70s, Russian scientist Anatoli Bugorski was a researcher at the Institute for High Energy Physics, working with the Soviet particle accelerator known as the Synchrotron U-70. On July 13, 1978, he popped his head into the Synchrotron to check on a malfunctioning piece of equipment when all of a sudden — zap! A safety mechanism went kaput at exactly the wrong moment, shooting a proton beam straight through his head. Although he felt no pain, Bugorski reportedly saw a flash “brighter than a thousand suns.” The beam entered through the back of his head and exited through his nose. Soon after, the left side of his face swelled up like a balloon, and he was rushed to the hospital — to be treated, of course, but also to be studied, as nothing like this had ever happened before. People believed he’d be dead within a few days, at the most.

More here…..

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Scientists have built world’s first ‘time machine’ in experiment


This is very interesting on several levels. First here’s some of the news.

Lead researcher Dr Gordey Lesovik said by putting scattered electrons back into their original shape they had effectively created a state which went against the ‘direction of time’…

Breaking: Scientists Have Reversed Time with a Quantum Computer

Scientists have reversed the direction of time with a quantum computer. The breakthrough study seems to contradict basic laws of physics and could alter our understanding of the processes governing the universe. In a development that also represents a major advance in our understanding of quantum computers, by using electrons and the strange world of quantum mechanics, researchers were able to turn back time in an experiment that is the equivalent of causing a broken rack of pool balls to go back into place.…

Here’s a link to the published paper.…

This does show “time travel” in an extremely limited way. One of the keys to time travel is defying the 2nd law of thermodynamics and time reversing entropy and a cracked egg can move in a direction towards it’s initial condition which we would say is backwards in time. This distinction is only in our minds because we only experience one direction.

So even if a universe was moving in a backwards direction it would still be moving forward because of entropy. We can be a universe that’s in a timeline that’s in a backwards direction when compared to another universe but these things have no meaning unless both universe exist together as one universe.

This doesn’t mean anyone will be going back in time anytime soon or ever. This could tell us a lot about the nature of reality.

Here’s an illustration of what this means.

Say you have a deck of card fresh out of the pack. This pack is in a low entropy state and it doesn’t take a lot of information to describe the order of the deck. I could say:

The deck of cards is ordered A-K in all Hearts, then Spades, next is Diamonds and finally Clubs.

That’s it.

When I shuffle the deck, now it becomes in a higher state of entropy and it takes more information to describe the order of the deck. This is saying that on a 2 Qubit quantum computer, you’re allowed to move away from the lower entropy initial state to a higher state of entropy but you’re also allowed to move back towards the initial low entropy state. So it would be like shoveling the cards and returning to the initial state when you opened the cards.

So time travel was achieved on a very limited basis. In order to travel back in time, you would have to reverse entropy of the system back towards the initial state. I don’t think that’s possible for classical systems but it happened here. With a 2 Qubit quantum computer they had an 85% success rate and when they added a Qubit more errors occurred and the success rate dropped to 50%.

This result could also point to parallel universes. Let’s go back to the cards example.

Let’s say each shuffle of the deck of cards is like a quantum fluctuation. This fluctuation comes at a cost and it’s paid with dark energy.

So now you’re shuffling the cards but the probable states the cards can be in become separated by dark energy and they’re now isolated systems (universes). So each isolated system would have a low entropy initial state but it wouldn’t be a global initial state. So the isolated systems (universes) could never return to the global low entropy initial condition or the deck of cards out of the pack because now you have four 13 card isolated systems separated by dark energy or a gaziilion universes separated by dark energy but each universe is part of this initial whole. There was an article about this.

Aliens May Well Exist in a Parallel Universe, New Studies Find

According to a new pair of studies in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, there’s a decent chance that life-fostering planets could exist in a parallel universe — even if that universe were being torn apart by dark energy.

In the new study, researchers ran a massive computer simulation to build new universes under various starting conditions. They found that the conditions for life might be a little broader than previously thought — especially when it comes to the mysterious pull of dark energy.

Across several experiments, an international team of researchers from England, Australia and the Netherlands used a program called Evolution and Assembly of Galaxies and their Environmentsto simulate the birth, life and eventual death of various hypothetical universes. In each simulation, the researchers adjusted the amount of dark energy present in that universe, ranging from none to several hundred times the amount in our own universe.

The good news: Even in universes with 300 times as much dark energy as ours, life found a way.

“Our simulations showed that the accelerated expansion driven by dark energy has hardly any impact on the birth of stars, and hence places for life to arise,” study co-author Pascal Elahi, a research fellow at the University of Western Australia, said in a statement. “Even increasing dark energy many hundreds of times might not be enough to make a dead universe.”

That’s good news for fans of extraterrestrial life and the multiverse theory. But a bigger question remains: If galaxies could still thrive on so much dark energy, why did our universe get handed such a seemingly small amount?…

Simple answer, FINE TUNING but that’s another thread.

So the question becomes, what could have been the initial global low entropy state?

I would say a very likely candidate is a Highest dimension that would be like a Heaven so to speak.

Say there’s 12 dimensions, this would mean each lower dimension is a holographic projection of the Highest dimension. This dimension would be eternal and like I said a Heaven so to speak. Here’s an article on this that was in Scientific American.

Is the big bang, and all that came from it, a holographic mirage from another dimension?

The universe appears to us to exist in three dimensions of space and one of time—a geometry that we will refer to as the “three-dimensional universe.” In our scenario, this three dimensional universe is merely the shadow of a world with four spatial dimensions.

Specifically, our entire universe came into being during a stellar implosion in this suprauniverse, an implosion that created a three-dimensional shell around a four-dimensional black hole. Our universe is that shell.…

So our universe would be the shadow of a higher dimension so of course if there’s an end to how many dimensions are out there then the 11th or 12th or 5th dimension would be the highest dimension if that’s where the dimensional limit ends. There could also be an infinity of higher dimensions and that would be another story.


Comment: by projectvxn
What they managed to achieve is a time-reversed wave-packet. They reversed a quantum state using a complex conjugational algorithm and an IBM quantum computer.

They also showed that time reversal undergoes a sort of compression effect or “squeeze” as described by the paper. I wonder if this effect can be scaled up to see what the effects of artificial compression of time before inducing a reversal will do to space itself. As we know, space and time is really spacetime. If we can compress time as a singular effect it may also be possible to create a localized compression of space. If this sounds familiar it is because you’ve heard it before:…

and here:…

sorry to rain on people’s parade…

As Scott Aaronson, director of the Quantum Information Center at the University of Texas at Austin, says, “If you’re simulating a time-reversible process on your computer, then you can ‘reverse the direction of time’ by simply reversing the direction of your simulation. From a quick look at the paper, I confess that I didn’t understand how this becomes more profound if the simulation is being done on IBM’s quantum computer.”

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The Heavens are announcing something major. Have you noticed?


Bolide Fireballs, Comets, surface impacts… we are told we discover more about these things because we are more advanced with our communications abilities than we’ve ever been. Let the facts speak for themselves…

Bolide Sightings Impacts, Reports:

1131 in 2019… (As of March 13th)
5929 in 2018…
5479 in 2017…
5373 in 2016…
4201 in 2015…
3767 in 2014…
3574 in 2013…
2160 in 2012…
1631 in 2011…
928 in 2010…
652 in 2009…

Notable within the reporting dates within this archive, these super bolide/ fire ball sightings did not gravitate towards a well known metorite shower, but instead were consistant all year long. What this information is showing is that these large debris near misses and impacts have substantially increased since 2009, showing evidence that a considerable gravitational disturbance has graduated within our solar system, and is either exciting inner system debris into chaotic collision patterns, or an entity with a considerable gravitationally emmitted force (i.e.: brown dwarf dark star, large undiscovered planetary body making it’s approach back through the heliosphere and into our solar system on an irregular obital pattern, or Supernova Blast Ring Remnant) from without the solar system in approaching ours and maybe even interacting with it at the Oort cloud/ Kieper Belt perimeter, sending debris directed towards an Earth orbit intercept.

A noted Russian physicist reported back in 2000 that our solar system was entering the blast remnant of a supernova that detonated long ago, and that the pressurization of the planetary entities within the solar system would warp, creating global warming on all of them as well as here on Earth, and create a die off of species. Today, Neptune has warmed up significantly, creating clouds within it’s frozen atmosphere. Here on earth we are witnessing an increase in tectonic movements, volcanic erruptions, and mass die off events of species across the board from birds to fish to mamals. Too, we are witnessing our planet being subjected to some form of warming trend… but notably regarding all of this, our sun has at this time entered into a period of absolute quietness, one inactive sun spot with no major flare activity or gravimetric anomalie activity for weeks. What this is, is proof of a supercharged gravity dense environment that has created a more compact heliosphere, where inner solar system space has become a condensed supressant of solar energy…

Reports of a (not yet seen physically, but observed through event and gravity patterns showing its existence) 9th planetary type body existing within the Oort Cloud beyond the Kieper Belt, with four times the mass of earth, have been published. Discovering the object through an Infrared or Light Refractional means however has been difficult. Perhaps the new radio telescope brought online last year in Australia can provide some hope… Additionally, other reports have revealed that a brown dwarf class object has been steadily approaching our solar system, or has an eliptical orbit with our sun, acting as a wayward binary companion captured by our young star… With people jumping on the band wagon stating it’s the long anticipated Nemesis system, come to bombard earth with comets and meteorites.

If the increase in comet and bolide activity recently doesnt bring some credability to thier tin foil hat claims… then what’s causing it?

Beware… These events are a barometer of indication that something indeed has a strong possibility of occurrence regarding a large planetary impact. Already, we have dozens of reports of these bolides actually making impact, with Russia becoming the first impact affected location. Just last month, there were two bolide impacts in the Atlantic. Spain and Australia in 2016 recorded HUGE bolide atmospheric intrusions, both witnessed in broad daylight. Last month a spiraling set of twin meteorites streaked across the sky in Cuba and impacted the island nation, sending a blast ring that shattered windows for miles while deafening the locals. In 2013 Comet ISON approached our solar system with an intensity that suprised observers. By the time it had reached the inner zone of the solar system it already had a massive tail that spanned 100,000 miles and could be seen shedding large chunks of itself. Before it’s demise at Perihelion it had a near impact brush with the planet Mars, which when the cometary debris feild streaming behind it began interacting with Mars atmosphere the entire planet brightened to a hot red glow and remained like that for several days… it is speculated that the debris feild impacted Mars pretty intensly and scalded the surface of the planet. Scientists believe that ISON originated not from the Oort or Kieper Belt debris feilds but instead originated further out beyond our actual solar system.

It is also feared that the breakup of comet ISON left behind a large object debris feild into which the Earth will pass through during its annual orbit, which to date has been authenticated with the Russian, Spanish, Australian, and Cuban impacts. As always … This isn’t a report about fear mongering, it is an attempt at providing the facts, and keeping the survival of the fittest foremost in mind informed. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A beer is worth next years report. Send your beer donations to…

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  Analysis of long-cycles theory


The goal of this thesis is to analyze Kondratieff, N. and Schumpeter, Joseph A. Long-waves. These waves are most noticeable in developed capitalist countries such as U.S., U.K., France and Germany. Therefore, Long-cycles analysis mostly used economic and historical data from countries mentioned above. By studying historical facts and economic data, we can conclude that the economy in the long term does not grow in steady linear curve, but grows in trend which has a sinusoidal form. These fluctuations, which consist of one full sinusoid cycle (2π), are particular to Kondratieff Long-cycles. The average of length of the Long-cycle is approximately 54 years but the depths of cycles are different, because each cycle has unique historical and economic environment. The depths of fluctuations are mainly affected by wars, which are divided into two major categories: the Peak wars and the Trough wars. The former occur on the peak point of the long-cycle and turn the cycle to the downswing period, however, it does not happen instantly because peak wars are followed by an era of good feelings –a plateau that lasts approx. 10 years. Trough wars occur at the bottom point when economy is at a standstill. Trough wars stir the stagnant economy and propel it into the upswing period. Therefore, these two types of wars help growth projection reach the turning points. These points affect the fluctuations, which from the lowest point to the following lowest point in sinusoid projection design one full Kondratieff’s Long-cycle.Schumpeter’s contribution examining Long-cycles is obvious. His idea, that innovations to the economy appears in clusters, significantly strengthened the Long-cycles theory. He summarized that the first Long-cycle was mostly influenced by steam engine invention. The second long-cycle was the consequence of wild usage of locomotive and the third long-cycle was caused by electricity. The fourth long-cycle, which followed after WWII, would be possible to describe as oil system and cars caused cycle. Contemporary cycle, which is numbered as the fifth, is caused by IT technologies. We can understand that there are direct relationships between wars and innovations. Definitely, the perceptions of Kondratieff were supplemented by other scholars as Mensch, Duijn, Barnett and others. Thus, the theory of the long cycles developed to a large aggregate cyclical-economicgrowth system. This system is a perfect combination of war theory, transport systems development path, population living and medical conditions change path, innovations aiming at producing technologies and changes of monetary system. However, to state the unequivocal existence of this cyclical system would not be appropriate, because some scholars, for example Maddison, A. and Solomou, S., state that the Long-cycles system suggested by Kondratieff is a very idealized historical overview. Nonetheless, the main result of this thesis shows that we can find cycles, every half century repeating economic and social upswing and downswing, phases.

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An Examination Of The Specific Bible Passages Which Mention The Devil And Satan

Preface: Misunderstood Bible Passages

We have explained at length in earlier chapters that ‘Satan’ and ‘Devil’ in the Bible are renderings of Hebrew and Greek words which basically mean ‘adversary’, ‘false accuser’, ‘opponent’. They can refer to persons, good or bad, who play that role. But sometimes in the New Testament, they are used more metaphorically to refer to sin, in various forms, and to systems which oppose the Gospel. Sin must be manifested through something; one cannot have abstract diabolism, it must always be manifested in a person or system of things. It is for this reason that the Devil is personified; because sin (the Devil) cannot exist in the abstract, it can only be found within the human heart and person.

In some passages, notably in Revelation, the Devil refers to sin manifested through a political system, notably that of the Roman empire. In others, there is reference to the Jewish system which was the great ‘satan’ or adversary to the early church.

Consider the following assignment: ‘Give a brief Biblical history of the Devil, according to your interpretation of Bible passages’. The responses would be highly contradictory. According to ‘orthodox’ reasoning, the answer has to be something like this:
a) The Devil was an angel in heaven who was thrown out into the garden of Eden. He was thrown to earth in Gen. 1.
b) He is supposed to have come to earth and married in Gen 6.
c) At the time of Job he is said to have had access to both heaven and earth.
d) By the time of Is. 14 he is thrown out of heaven onto earth.
e) In Zech. 3 he is in heaven again.
f) He is on earth in Mt. 4.
g) He is “cast out” at the time of Jesus’ death, according to the popular view of “the prince of this world” being “cast out” at that time.
h) There is a prophecy of the Devil being ‘cast out’ in Rev. 12.
i) The Devil is “chained” in Rev. 20, but he and his angels were chained in Genesis, according to the common view of Jude 6. If he was bound with ‘eternal chains’ then, how is he chained up again in Rev. 20?

All this is contradictory- moreover, Heb. 2:14 states that the Lord Jesus “destroyed” the Devil at the time of His death. And if the Devil was cast out of Heaven in Eden, how come he appears to talk with God so freely in Heaven itself afterwards? Quite simply, the orthodox story just doesn’t add up. It’s literalism’s last gasp.

5-2 The Serpent In Eden

Genesis 3:4-5: “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil”.

Popular Interpretation

It is assumed that the serpent here is an angel that had sinned, called “Satan”. Having been thrown out of heaven for his sin, he came to earth and tempted Eve to sin.


1. The passage talks about “the serpent”. The words “satan” and “devil” do not occur in the whole book of Genesis.

2. The serpent is never described as an angel.

3. Therefore it is not surprising that there is no reference in Genesis to anyone being thrown out of heaven.

4. Sin brings death (Rom. 6:23). Angels cannot die (Lk. 20:35-36) , therefore angels cannot sin. The reward of the righteous is to be made equal to the angels to die no more (Lk. 20:35-36). If angels can sin, then the righteous will also be able to sin and therefore will have the possibility of dying, which means they will not really have everlasting life.

5. The characters involved in the Genesis record of the fall of man are: God, Adam, Eve and the serpent. Nobody else is mentioned. There is no evidence that anything got inside the serpent to make it do what it did. Paul says the serpent “beguiled Eve through his (own) subtilty” (2 Cor.11:3). God told the serpent: “Because thou hast done this…” (Gen.3:14). If “satan” used the serpent, why is he not mentioned and why was he not also punished?

6. Adam blamed Eve for his sin: “She gave me of the tree” (Gen. 3:12).

Eve blamed the serpent: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:13).

The serpent did not blame the devil – he made no excuse.

7. If it is argued that snakes today do not have the power of speech or reasoning as the serpent in Eden had, remember that:-

(a) a donkey was once made to speak and reason with a man (Balaam); “The (normally) dumb ass speaking with a man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet” (2 Pet. 2:16). and

(b) The serpent was one of the most intelligent of all the animals (Gen. 3:1). The curse upon it would have taken away the ability it had to speak with Adam and Eve. But it was an animal.

8. God created the serpent (Gen. 3:1); another being called “satan” did not turn into the serpent; if we believe this, we are effectively saying that one person can enter the life of someone else and control it. This is a pagan idea, not a Biblical one. If it is argued that God would not have created the serpent because of the great sin it enticed Adam and Eve to commit, remember that sin entered the world from man (Rom. 5:12); the serpent was therefore amoral, speaking from its own natural observations, and was not as such responsible to God and therefore did not commit sin. The serpent was a beast of the field which God had made (Gen 3:1). Yet out of the ground [Heb. adamah- earth, soil] God formed all the beasts of the field, including the serpent (Gen. 2:17). So the serpent was likewise created by God out of the ground- it wasn’t a pre-existing agent of evil. Note the snake, as one of the beasts of the field, was “very good” (Gen. 1:31)- hardly how one would describe the serpent according to the orthodox reasoning. The Torah doesn’t speak of purely symbolic, abstract concepts; there is always a literal reality, which may then be interpreted in a symbolic way. The serpent, therefore, begs to be understood in this context as just that- a serpent. The view has been pushed that the serpent is to be read as a symbol of our human or animal nature. This would mean that Eve’s nature deceived Eve, and such a separation between a person and their nature is problematic to say the least. This view runs into huge difficulties- for how could Eve’s nature be punished in a way separate to her punishment, in what way was her deceptive nature created by God like the animals, and how just was Eve’s personal judgment in this case… and the questions go on, continuing to be begged the more we think about it.

Some suggest that the serpent of Genesis 3 is related to the seraphim. However, the normal Hebrew word for “serpent”, which is used in Genesis 3, is totally unrelated to the word for “seraphim”. The Hebrew word translated “seraphim” basically means a “fiery one” and is translated “fiery serpent” in Numbers 21:8, but this is not the word translated “serpent” in Genesis 3. The Hebrew word for brass comes from the same root word for “serpent” in Genesis 3. Brass represents sin (Jud. 16:21; 2 Sam. 3:24; 2 Kings. 25:7; 2 Chron. 33:11; 36:6), thus the serpent may be connected with the idea of sin, but not a sinful angel.

9. Note that the enmity, the conflict, is between the woman and the serpent, and their respective seed. The serpent is presented not so much as the foe of God, but the enemy of mankind. The promise that the seed of the woman would crush his head is echoed in the words to Cain in regard to sin: “Its desire is for you, but you will be able to master it” (Gen. 4:7). The snake is to be connected symbolically with human sin, not any superhuman Satan figure.

Suggested Explanations

1. There seems no reason to doubt that what we are told about the creation and the fall in the early chapters of Genesis should be taken literally. “The serpent” was a literal serpent. The fact that we can see serpents today crawling on their bellies in fulfillment of the curse placed on the original serpent (Gen. 3:14), proves this. In the same way we see men and women suffering from the curses that were placed on them at the same time. We can appreciate that Adam and Eve were a literal man and woman as we know man and woman today, but enjoying a better form of existence, therefore the original serpent was a literal animal, although in a far more intelligent form than snakes are today.

2. The following are further indications that the early chapters of Genesis should be read literally:-

– Jesus referred to the record of Adam and Eve’s creation as the basis of His teaching on marriage and divorce (Matt. 19:5-6); there is no hint that He read it figuratively.

– “For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived (by the serpent), but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Tim. 2:13-14) – so Paul, too, read Genesis literally. And most importantly he wrote earlier about the way the “serpent beguiled Even through his subtilty” (2 Cor. 11:3) – notice that Paul doesn’t mention the “devil” beguiling Eve.

– Is there any evidence at all that there is anything else in the record of the creation and fall that should be read figuratively? The world was created in six days according to Genesis 1. That these were intended to be understood as literal days of 24 hours is proved by the fact that the various things created on the different days could not usefully exist without each other in their present form for more than a few days. That they were not periods of 1,000 years or more is demonstrated by the fact that Adam was created on the sixth day, but died after the seventh day at the age of 930 (Gen. 5:5). If the seventh day was a period of 1,000 years then Adam would have been more than 1,000 when he died.

– In Digression 3 I attempt to outline the original intention and context of Genesis 3- to explain to the Israelites in the wilderness where the truth lay in all the various myths about creation and ‘Satan’ figures which they had encountered in the epics and myths of Egypt and the Canaanite tribes. The record appears at pains to stress that the account of the garden of Eden is intended to be understood literally. Consider Gen. 2:11,12 about “The land of Havilah, where there is [now] gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stones are [right now] there”. Cassuto comments about the record: “Its intention was to express a protest against the mythological notions current among the people. Do not believe- so it comes to tell us- that the Garden of Eden was a supernatural garden, and that its trees bore precious stones or gold balls instead of fruit that was good for food… yet was its fruit real fruit, fruit good for human food. Bdellium, onyx and gold come to us from one of the countries of our world, from the land of Havilah” (1). The literality is indeed being emphasized, and I therefore suggest that we likewise read the serpent as indeed a “beast of the field” created by God- and nothing more.

3. Because the serpent was cursed with having to crawl on its belly (Gen. 3:14), this may imply that previously it had legs; coupled with its evident powers of reasoning, it was probably the form of animal life closest to man, although it was still an animal – another of the “beasts of the field which the Lord God had made” (Gen. 3:1 & 14). It was cursed “above (“from among”, RVmg.) every beast of the field” (Gen. 3:14), as if all the beasts were cursed but especially the serpent.

4. Maybe the serpent had eaten of the tree of knowledge which would explain his subtilty. Eve “saw that the tree was…a tree to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6). How could she have seen this unless she saw the result of eating the fruit in the life of something that had already done so? It may well be that Eve had had several conversations with the serpent before the one recorded in Genesis 3. The first recorded words of the serpent to Eve are, “Yea, hath God said…” (Gen. 3:1) – the word “Yea” possibly implying that this was a continuation of a previous conversation that is not recorded.

5. I’ve shown elsewhere (2) that the entire Pentateuch is alluding to the various myths and legends of creation and origins, showing what the truth is. Moses was seeking to disabuse Israel of all the myths they’d heard in Egypt, to deconstruct the wrong views they’d grown up with- and so he wrote Genesis 1-3 to show the understanding of origins which God wished His people to have. The serpent had a major significance in the surrounding cultures. It was seen as a representative of the gods, a kind of demon, a genie. But the Genesis record is at pain to show that the serpent in Eden was none of those things- it was one of the “beasts of the field”. No hidden identity is suggested for the serpent in Genesis. J.H. Walton comments: “The Israelites [made no] attempt to associate it [the serpent] with a being who was the ultimate source or cause of evil. In fact, it would appear that the author of Genesis is intentionally underplaying the role or identification of the serpent…In Canaanite literature the role of chaos was played by the serpentine Leviathan / Lotan. In contrast, the Biblical narrative states that the great sea creatures were simply beasts God created (Gen. 1:21). This demythologizing polemic may also be responsible for avoiding any theory of conspirational uprisings for the existence of evil… there is no hint in the OT that the serpent of Genesis 2-3 was either identified as Satan or was thought to be inspired by Satan. The earliest extant reference to any association is found in Wisdom of Solomon 2:24 (first century BC)… the earliest reference to Satan as the tempter through the serpent is in Apocalypse Of Moses 16-19, contemporary to the NT… in the writings of the church fathers, one of the earliest to associate the serpent with Satan was Justin Martyr ” (3). Even within Judaism, it is accepted that the idea that the serpent was Satan is not in the text itself, and arose only within later Rabbinic commentary: “The interpretation… according to which the serpent is none other than Satan… introduces into the text concepts that are foreign to it… the primeval serpent is just a species of animal… it is beyond doubt that the Bible refers to an ordinary, natural creature, for it is distinctly stated here: Beyond any best of the field that the Lord God had made” (4).

Why So Misunderstood?

Throughout the entire history of Jewish and Christian thought, Genesis 1-3 has been the most studied passage, the verses most used to justify theories, theologies, dogmas and behavioural demands. There’s simply a huge amount of material been written about these chapters, and a colossal weight of dogma built upon them. The result is that psychologically, most people approach these chapters with assumptions and pre-existing ideas as to what’s going on there. Here more than anywhere else in the Bible, we run the danger of eisegesis (reading into the text) rather than exegesis, reading out of the text what God is saying, rather than projecting our own preconceived ideas onto the text and calling the process ‘Biblical interpretation’. Augustine, one of mainstream Christianity’s greatest influencers, based much of his teaching upon early Genesis. His whole teaching about sex, human nature, Satan, temptation, salvation, judgment etc. all had its basis in his understanding [or misunderstanding] of these chapters. Within the Christian spectrum, evolutionists and creationists, pro-life and otherwise, gay and straight… all seek justification from these chapters.

So it’s not surprising that many commentators have noted that this passage is one of the most misused and misunderstood in the whole Bible. But why? I’d suggest it’s because humanity [and that includes theologians and formulators of church doctrine] squirms awkwardly under the glaring beam of the simple record of human guilt. And therefore the serpent has been turned into a superhuman being that gets all the blame; and human sin has been minimized, at the expense of the plain meaning of the text. The whole structure of the Biblical narrative is concerned with the guilt and sin of the man and the woman; the snake isn’t where the focus is. Von Rad, in one of the 20th century’s most seminal commentaries on Genesis, understood this clearly: “In the narrator’s mind, [the serpent] is scarcely an embodiment of a ‘demonic’ power and certainly not of Satan… the mention of the snake is almost secondary; in the ‘temptation’ by it the concern is with a completely unmythical process, presented in such a way because the narrator is obviously anxious to shift the problem as little as possible from man” (5). The record keeps using personal pronouns to lay the blame squarely with Adam: “I heard… I was afraid… I was naked; I hid… I ate… I ate” (Gen. 3:10-13; and compare Jonah’s similar confession of sin in Jonah 4:1-3- Jonah appears to allude to Adam here). Nobody reading the Genesis record with an open mind would surely see anything else but the blame being placed on humanity; as I have repeatedly stressed, the words ‘Satan’, ‘Lucifer’ and the idea of the serpent as a fallen Angel are simply not there in Genesis. They have to be ‘read in’ from presuppositions, which ultimately have their root in pagan myths. John Steinbeck, who was hardly a Biblical Christian, was fascinated by the early chapters of Genesis, and his 1952 novel East Of Eden is evidently his commentary upon them. And he finds no place for a ‘Satan’ figure. Instead, he is struck by the comment to Cain that although sin crouches at the door, “do thou rule over him”. Steinbeck concluded from this that victory over sin and the effects of Adam’s sin is possible; and therefore we’re not bound by some superhuman Satan figure, nor by an over-controlling Divine predestination to sin and failure. There’s a passage in chapter 24 of the novel that bears quoting; I find it deeply inspirational, and another example of the practical import of the correct understanding of early Genesis: “It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself onto the lap of the deity, saying, “I couldn’t help it; the way was set”. But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice; a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there… these verses are a history of mankind in any age or culture or race… this is a ladder to climb to the stars… it cuts the feet from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness… because “thou mayest” rule over sin”. The practical inspiration ought to be evident; all further commentary is bathos.

The Motive And Origin Of The Sin

What were the motives of Adam and Eve for sinning, for accepting the serpent’s suggestion? Considering this can help open a window onto the question of the origin of Adam’s sin. They were attracted by the idea of “knowing good and evil”. But this phrase is elsewhere used in the Bible about how an adult ‘knows good and evil’, but a child can’t (Dt. 1:39; 2 Sam. 19:35; Is. 7:16). Adam and Eve were immature; like children, they wished to ‘grow up’, they resented the restraints which their immaturity required them to be under; they wanted, just as children want, to be the all-knowing adults / mature people whom they had seen the Elohim as. As children long to escape from what they see as meaningless and onerous restrictions, whilst having no idea what this would really mean in practice and how un-free it would really be- so Adam and Eve were attracted by the idea of having the knowledge of good and evil just for the bite of the forbidden fruit. I find this a perfectly understandable explanation of the motive for Adam and Eve’s sin. It seems a quite imaginable exercise of the freedom of choice and behaviour which God had given them. There is no hint that ‘Satan made them do it’, or that they were ‘possessed’ by some sinful spirit. They did just what we so often do- misused, wrongly exercised, their freewill and desired that which was inappropriate. Simple as that. There’s no need to bring in an external Satan figure to explain what happened.

The Serpent And The Woman

In Gen. 3:15 we have the famous prophecy that the seed of the woman would have conflict with the seed of the serpent. The woman’s son would mortally wound the snake by striking it on the head, whereas the serpent would temporarily wound the woman’s son by ‘bruising’ him in the heel. New Testament allusion suggests we are to understand this as a prediction of the fight between the Lord Jesus, as the seed of Eve, and the power of sin. The Lord Jesus was temporarily wounded, dying for three days, but through this the power of death, i.e. sin, was destroyed (Heb. 2:14). In our context, it’s noteworthy that the prophecy of Christ’s crucifixion in Is. 53:10 underlines that it was God who ‘bruised’ Christ there. Gen. 3:15 says it was the seed of the serpent who bruised Christ. Conclusion: God worked through the seed of the serpent, God was [and is] totally in control. The serpent is therefore not a symbol of radical, free flying evil which is somehow outside of God’s control, and which ‘bruised’ God’s Son whilst God was powerless to stop His Son being bruised. Not at all. God was in control, even of the seed of the serpent. However we finally wish to interpret “the seed of the serpent”, the simple fact is that God was in powerful control of it / him.


(1) Umberto Cassuto, Biblical And Oriental Studies (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1975) Vol. 2 p. 107.

(2) See Digression 3 The Intention And Context Of Genesis 1-3.

(3) J.H. Walton, ‘Serpent’, in T.D. Alexander and D.W. Baker, eds, Dictionary Of The Old Testament And Pentateuch (Leicester: I.V.P., 2003) pp. 737/8.

(4) Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary On The Book Of Genesis (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1998 ed.) Vol. 1, pp. 139,140.

(5) Gerhard von Rad, Genesis (London: S.C.M., 1966) p. 85.

5-3 Sons of God and Daughters of Men

Genesis 6: 2-4: “…the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown”.

Popular Interpretation

It is thought that “the sons of God” are angels who, on being thrown out of heaven for their sin, came down to earth and married attractive women, resulting in them having very large children.


1. There is no mention at all of “the sons of God” coming down from heaven.

2. Why assume these “sons of God” are angels? The phrase is used concerning men, especially those who know the true God (Deut. 14:1 (R.S.V.); Hos. 1:10; Lk. 3:38; Jn 1:12; 1 Jn. 3:1).

3. If believers are to be made equal to angels (Lk. 20:35-36), will they still experience the same carnal desires which then motivated the sons of God, or have the possibility of giving way to them? Of course not!

4. Luke 20:35-36, clearly says that the angels do not marry: “They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage…for they are equal unto the angels”.

5. It is commonly believed that the angels who are thought to have sinned came down to earth at the time of the garden of Eden incidents, but Genesis 6 concerns the time of the flood, which was many years later.

6. The Hebrew word for “giants” in Genesis 6:4, is also used to describe the sons of a man called Anak in Numbers 13:33. Freak human beings of unusual size or strength are sometimes born today, but it does not mean that their parents were angels.

7. We are not specifically told that the giants were the children of the “sons of God”. “There were giants…and also after that…the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men” (:4).

8. If Angels married women, then who were the children, and what were they like? The apocryphal book of 1 Enoch claims that the offspring were “evil spirits” and witches (1 Enoch 15:8-16:1)- but the Bible is utterly silent about this.

Suggested Explanations

1. We have shown that the “sons of God” may refer to those with the true understanding of God. The “sons of God’ of every generation have kept themselves separate from the people of the world, and are warned by God not to marry such people because they will influence them away from following the true God (Ex. 34:12,15,16; Josh. 23:12-13; Ezra 9:12; 1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14-16). Genesis 3:15 describes how the seed (descendants) of the serpent would be in constant conflict with the seed of the woman (cp. Gal. 4:29). The early chapters of Genesis highlight the fact that there were these two sorts of people; the descendants of Seth called themselves “by the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26 A.V margin) and comprised the righteous “sons of God”, the seed of the woman. By contrast, the descendants of Cain, are described as being associated with murder and instituting polygamy (Gen. 4:23 & 19), the art of weapon production (Gen. 4:22) and entertainment (Gen. 4:21). The names of these people imply that at this time they started an alternative , apostate, system of worship to replace the true worship of God, which angered God; e.g. Cain named a city after Enoch, whose name means “dedicated”; Irad means “eternal city”; Mehujael means “God combats”; Lamech means “Overthrower” (of the truth ?). The sons of God marrying the daughters of men would therefore describe the inter-marriage of these two lines, so that only Noah and his family were the “seed of the woman” at the time of the flood.

2. Careful reflection on Genesis 6 indicates that the “sons of God” must have been men:-

– They “took them wives of all that they chose”. This process of choosing an appealing woman for marriage is so obviously something experienced by men. Notice how the “sons of God” probably took more than one wife each – “wives of all that they chose”. This was a characteristic of the seed of the serpent (Gen. 4:19), showing us that the two lines had merged; because of the sons of God marrying the daughters of men, God said that in 120 years’ time, He would destroy man (Gen. 6:3) in the flood. Why should God punish and destroy man if the angels had sinned? Seeing that angels cannot die (Lk. 20:35-36), there would have been no point in destroying the earth with a flood to try and destroy them. Things fall into place far better if the “sons of God” were men:- therefore God said, “The end of all flesh(mankind) is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with (from ) the earth” (Gen. 6:13). The violence on the earth which vs. 3-5 associate with the apostasy of the “sons of God” arose through man – man, not angels or the devil, had filled the earth with violence:- another reason God brought the flood was because the earth had become corrupt. Why did this happen? It was corrupt, “for (because) all flesh had corrupted His way upon the earth” (Gen. 6:11 & 12). Man had corrupted the true way of God – due to the sons of God, who understood “the way”, mixing with the people of the flesh. “The way” is a phrase used to describe the true understanding of God (e.g. Gen. 3:24; 18:19; Ps. 27:11; 119:32-33; Acts16:17; 9:2; 18:25; 19: 9 & 23; 2 Pet. 2:2). This corruption of “the way” by the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 is commented on in Jude v. 11, where the apostate Christians of the first century are likened to those men who went “in the way of Cain” – not of the truth. Cain was the father of the seed of the serpent line;

– The actions of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2 , are described in v. 5 as “the wickedness of man”, which “was great in the earth…every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”;

– Jesus said that the world in the last days would be similar to what it was at the time of Noah. He implied that in the same way as men had the wrong attitude to marriage in Noah’s time, so men also would in the last days before His return (Lk. 17:26-27). The only reference to attitudes to marriage at Noah’s time is in Genesis 6:2, thus again implying that the “sons of God” who married wrongfully were men.

3. “There were giants in the earth in those days”. The Hebrew syntax here would suggest that this is a notice that at this time, there were giants in the earth. The giants aren’t described as being the offspring of the relationship between the sons of God and daughters of men. The word “giants” has two possible meanings: “fallen ones” (which would be relevant to their being the “sons of God” who had spiritually fallen away) and “assailants, hackers, tyrants”- the definition provided by Martin Luther and H.C. Leupold (1). This is the root of the Hebrew word for “giant”, and is used in 2 Kings 3:19 & 25, to describe a vicious attack on the Moabites by Israel. Thus we get the impression that there were men, perhaps of great physical size and strength, who went around viciously attacking people. They became famous (or infamous) – “men of renown”. Job (22:15-17) comments upon them: “Hast thou marked the old way which wicked men have trodden? Which were cut down out of time, whose foundation was overflown with a flood: which said unto God, Depart from us”. Notice that this refers to men, not angels. In passing, it would seem these men may have their latter day counterpart in the gang warfare and its associated mentality of our modern world. We have shown in Digression 3 that the intention of Moses in Genesis was to explain Israel’s surrounding world to them, and deconstruct the false ideas they encountered in surrounding myth. The people were frightened by the “giants” they met in the land of Canaan (Num. 13:33). These nephilim [LXX gigantes] had their origin explained by Moses in Genesis 6- the righteous seed intermarried with the wicked, and their offspring were these nephilim, mighty men of the world. Note in passing how Ez. 32:27 LXX uses this same word gigantes to describe pagan warriors who died- no hint that they were superhuman or Angels.

4. The idea of cosmic beings coming to earth and having sexual relations with human women is a classic piece of pagan myth; and the Jews came to adopt these into their interpretations of the Genesis 6 passage, e.g. in the Book of Enoch. Josephus brings out the similarities: “The angels of God united with women… the actions attributed to them by our tradition [note that- “our tradition”, not Scripture itself!] resemble the bold exploits which the Greeks recount about the Giants” (2). Clearly, Jewish thinking sought to accommodate the pagan myths.

5. The Israelites were aware of the existence of unusually large people- the Zamzumin, Zumin, Rephaim, Nephilim, Emim, and Anakim (Dt. 1:28, 2:10-11, 20-21, 3:11). The bed of Og, King of Bashan, a Rephaim, was nine cubits long, over 14 feet (Dt. 3:11). In Canaanite mythology these giants came from intermarriage between human beings and the gods; but Moses in Genesis 6 is surely addressing this myth and correcting it. He’s saying (by implication) that this didn’t happen, but rather the Godly seed and the wicked intermarried; and yes, at that time, there were giants in the earth, but they were judged and destroyed by the flood, and the implication surely was that the Israel who first heard Moses’ inspired history could take comfort that the giants they faced in Canaan would likewise be overcome by God.

6. We have elsewhere commented on how apostate Jewish theology sought to minimize human sin and blame it on a Satan figure. It’s significant that when the inspired New Testament writers refer to the flood, there is no suggestion by them that they accepted the idea that sinful Angels somehow led humanity into sin. Instead, they repeatedly underscore the fact that it was human sin which led God to punish humanity. The uninspired Book Of Jubilees, written about 150 BC, claims that Noah complained to God about “the unclean demons” leading his grandchildren into sin and asked God to judge these demons, thus resulting in the flood (Jubilees 10:1-7). That is mere fantasy- and quite the opposite of what the Genesis record states- where clearly it is human wickedness which leads God to judge humans. What I find so highly significant is that the Lord Jesus and His apostles stress that it was indeed human sin which led to Divine judgment through the flood. Effectively, they’re thus deconstructing these false ideas which were circulating and upholding the Biblical emphasis against the sophistry of the false theology about Satan / demons which was circulating. It’s a tragedy that the same false understandings still circulate, and so many still refuse to face up to the clear teaching of Scripture- that human beings sin and must take responsibility and bear judgment for that sin.

7. I commented at some length in Digression 3 how this passage is actively deconstructing false Canaanite myths about sinful gods, giants, demons etc. It could be argued that this passage, along with much of early Genesis, is actually deconstructing the wrong ideas about Angels, demons, Satan etc. which Israel had encountered in Egypt and amongst the Canaanite tribes. It is teaching that the giants which Israel had noticed were in fact only human, and no more. They were “mighty men“, “men of renown”. Later Scripture does likewise- the Rephaim had children like other human beings (2 Sam. 21:16,18; Dt. 3:11), inhabiting an area known as the valley of Rephaim (Josh. 15:8). Cassuto comments: “The intention of the section is actually to contradict certain folk-tales, and to erase, as far as possible, their mythological features” (3). Elsewhere, Cassuto draws attention to the significance of God’s comment upon the sin of the ‘sons of God’ in Gen. 6:3: “My spirit shall not abide in [or, strive with] man for ever”. God comments upon the human condition, not upon anything out in the cosmos. He comments: “[this] implies: Do not believe the heathen tales about human beings of divine origin, who were rendered immortal; this is untrue, for in the end every man must die, “in as much as he, too, is flesh”… the Torah’s intention is to counteract the pagan legends and to reduce to a minimum the content of the ancient traditions concerning the giants” (4). The record of the flood which follows that of the mention of the ‘giants’ can be read as a further deconstruction of the myths about them. The Biblical record states that God opened the “windows of Heaven” (Gen. 7:11). The identical term in Ugaritic occurs in Tablet 2 AB, col. 7 line 17 of the Ras Shamra tablets. Cassuto explains that “The Canaanites used to tell of the god Baal that at one stage he built for himself a palace in the sky and opened therein windows… the Canaanites attributed to Baal the sending down of rain from heaven”, but that the giants / offspring of the wicked gods “set down their feet and closed up the deep, and they placed their hands on the windows” (5). The Genesis record stresses that the giants were mere men; and that it was God and not the giants who opened and closed the windows of Heaven and sent the rain of the flood. This would fit in with wider evidence that the flood record, like that of the sons of God and daughters of men, is also purposefully deconstructing pagan myths about the flood. Just one example: Gen. 8:2 states clearly that it was God who caused the flood rains to cease and the waters to subside- whereas the pagan myths claim that it was the sun god who appeared and caused the waters to evaporate. The Biblical record says nothing about the waters disappearing by solar evaporation, but claims they subsided as a result of the work of Israel’s God.


(1) H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, Vol. 1 (Ann Arbor, MI: Wartburg Press, 1942), p. 250.

(2) Antiquities Of The Jews 1.3.1.

(3) Umberto Cassuto, Biblical And Oriental Studies (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1975) Vol. 2 p. 108.

(4) Umberto Cassuto, Commentary On The Book Of Genesis (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1998 ed.) Vol. 1 p. 300.

(5) References in Umberto Cassuto, Commentary On The Book Of Genesis (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1992 ed.) Vol. 2 pp. 86,87.

5-4 Job’s Satan

Job 1:6: “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them”.

Popular Interpretation

Satan in Job is an angel who came among the angels in heaven and criticized Job, whom he had been watching whilst walking around in the earth seeing what trouble he could make. He then brings lots of problems upon Job to try and turn him away from God.


1. “Satan” is only mentioned in the first two chapters of Job and nowhere in the book is he explicitly defined as an angel.

2. We have seen in our comments on Genesis 6:2 , that the phrase “sons of God” can refer to those who have the true understanding of God (Rom. 8:14; 2 Cor. 6:17-18; 1 Jn. 3:7). Angels do not bring false accusations against believers “before the Lord” (2 Pet. 2:11)

3. It cannot be conclusively proved that Satan was a son of God – he “came among them”.

4. Satan is described as “going to and fro in the earth”. There is no implication that he was doing anything sinful. Zechariah 1:11 implies that this is a Hebraism for observing.

5. How can Satan be in heaven and also on the earth in Job’s time when, according to popular belief, he was thrown out at the time of Adam, or in 1914, according to the “Watchtower”?

6. Remember that there cannot be sin or rebellion against God in heaven (Ps.5:4-5; Hab. 1:13; Matt. 6:10; Ps. 103:19-21).

7. The major theme of the book of Job is that God brought the problems into Job’s life and that eventually they made him a more righteous person (Job 2:10; 16:11; 19:21; 23:16; 42:11). Notice that Job did not believe that only good things came from God; he nowhere complains about Satan bringing the problems. Job realized that his sufferings had made him come to know God in practice rather than just in theory – “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee” (42:5). Seeing that problems make us more righteous people if we respond correctly to them (Heb. 12:5-11), why would a sinful, wicked being, who wants to turn us away from God, bring these things into our lives, when actually they only make us more righteous and closer to God?

8. The fact that Satan and the sons of God were in “the presence of the Lord” and presented themselves “before the Lord” (2:7; 1:6) does not necessarily mean that they were in heaven. The representatives of God carry the name of God, e.g. the angel which led Israel through the wilderness was called “the Lord” because it carried God’s name (Ex. 23:20-21), but it was not God himself in person (Ex. 33:20 cp. v. 12). Similarly, priests represent God (2 Chron. 19:6) and to come before them was to come “before the Lord” (Deut. 19:17). Cain “went out from the presence of the Lord” (Gen. 4:16) – not out of heaven but probably away from the presence of the angel – cherubim. Jesus was presented as a baby “before the Lord” (Lk. 2:22)- i.e. before the priest.

9. Notice that Satan had to get power from God (Job 2:3-6); he had none in his own right, indeed, God brought Job to Satan’s notice (1:8). Job comments about God being the source of his sufferings: “If it be not he, who then is it?” (Job 9:24 RV). Job didn’t believe anyone apart from God was responsible.

10. There is no indication that anything Satan did was sinful. Satan never actually says or does anything wrong; he simply makes the observation that there may well be a relationship between Job’s service of God and the material blessing which God has given him. He is them empowered by God to bring calamities into Job’s life. Time and again is it stressed, really stressed, that God brought the problems upon Job, not satan independently (1:12,16; 2:3,10; 6:4; 8:4; 19:21; 42:18).

11. Even if the “satan” (adversary) to Job was an angel, there is no reason to think it was sinful. An angel asked Abraham to offer Isaac to find out exactly how obedient Abraham would be, hence he said, “Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Gen. 22:12). Similarly the angel which guided Israel out of Egypt, “led thee these forty years in the wilderness to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no” (Deut. 8:2). God himself knows all things, but the angels bring problems into the lives of their charges in order to see how they will respond. It may be possible to understand Job’s satan like this. Remember that an evidently righteous angel was called a “satan” in Numbers 22:22.

12. Much has been made of the fact that in Job 1 and in Zech. 3:1,2 we read of ha satan, the adversary. In Hebrew as in English, the definite article is significant. If I refer to myself as a personal, specific individual / being, I say “Duncan”. To speak of “the Duncan” would be a description of a function, more than a reference to my personal name. Sitting at a restaurant table, you might call out: “Waiter!”, intending a specific individual. You’d only speak of “the waiter” when describing his function- e.g. “The waiter served me badly”. Hebrew and English operate in the same way here. So when we read in Job 1 and Zechariah 3 of the satan, ha satan, we’re not reading of ‘A specific person whose personal proper name is ‘Satan”. Rather we’re reading of a person who functioned as a satan or adversary. Dianne Bergant makes the point: “The word ‘satan’ appears with an article indicating that here the word is a title or description and not a proper name” (1). In other words, ‘the satan’ isn’t the personal name of a personal being called Satan. It’s a description of the function of a character, as an adversary. Note that the man Haman is called ho diabolos in Esther 7:4 LXX.

13. We read and receive the style of the book of Job in a way far different to how its original readership would’ve done. Continuing the point made in [12] above, the Russian literary analyst Vladimir Propp has shown that all stories, folklore etc. of that time contained characters with a set function- there was the hero, the companion, the friends / bystanders, and the adversary (2). Whilst I accept that Job was a historical character, the way the book is written in such structured Hebrew poetry shows for sure that the events were ‘written up’ in story / ballad form. And so when the initial readership encountered “the adversary”, ha satan, they wouldn’t have thought of him as a cosmic being of evil. The presence of someone functioning as “the adversary” would’ve been quite normal to them.

14. If we follow through the argument of the book, the logical answer of Job to the friends’ allegations would have been “I’m suffering because Satan has it in for me! He’s doing this, not God!”. For the friends were reasoning that God was bringing such affliction into Job’s life because Job was a sinner. The fact Job doesn’t make this obvious retort indicates to me that “the Satan” wasn’t understood by either Job nor the friends as a personal supernatural being of evil.

15. We have demonstrated in chapter 1 how Jewish thinking came to be influenced by Babylonian ideas of a dualistic cosmos, split between God and some ‘Satan’ figure. The book of Job is a corrective to this, in that it teaches that evil comes from God, and any Satan figure is under His total control. Yet a mere skim reading of the prologue to Job has led some to the very opposite conclusion. Significantly, the apostate Jewish writing The Testament Of Job completely twists the intent of the Biblical record, and adds into it the common misconceptions concerning Satan- e.g. it claims of Job’s wife: “Satan followed her along the road, walking stealthily, and leading her hear astray… [Job warns her] ‘Do you not see Satan standing behind you and unsettling your reasoning?'” (23:11; 26:6). These classical images of ‘Satan’ have to be added in to the Biblical record- because they are simply not there in the Biblical text.

Suggested Explanations

1. We have seen that coming “before the Lord” may describe coming before a representative of God, such as a priest or an angel. The “sons of God” – the believers at that time – presented themselves before a priest or angel, perhaps at a religious feast. Someone there, maybe one of the worshippers, reflected that it was not surprising that Job was such a strong believer, seeing that God had so richly blessed him. God gave that person the power to afflict Job, to demonstrate that Job’s love of God was not proportionate to the blessings God had given him.

2. Maybe the Satan was composed of Job’s three “friends” – they are rebuked at the end of the book (notice that “satan” is not rebuked by name). Their discussions with Job indicate that they had their doubts as to his integrity and suspected that his faith was now weak because God had taken away the blessings from him – “But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest: it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled…who ever perished (which it looked as though Job was going to), being innocent?” Eliphaz pointed out (Job 4:5 & 7).

3. It has been suggested that the prologue to Job is in fact a literary device to place theological problems before us, e.g. of the relationship between service of God and receipt of blessing, and sin and suffering. But we must remember that later Scripture takes the experiences of Job as literal, and Job himself as a real historical person. However, it is not impossible that the account of the conversation between God and the satan was not a literal occurrence, but simply a way of setting up the problems which the historical narrative then addresses. It’s worth meditating on this one. But it isn’t a view which strongly commends itself to the present writer, not least because there seem few, if any, examples of this kind of device in the rest of Scripture.

4. The friends insist that “the destroyer” [by which they surely meant an early equivalent to ‘the devil’ of popular belief today] had touched Job- whereas Job insists that it is God who had destroyed him (Job 15:21 cp. 19:10; 13:21). In some ways the book of Job is a deconstruction of the popular Persian and Canaanite myths about a ‘satan’ figure. Job, both in the story of his sufferings and his specific words, seeks to demonstrate that the essential issues in life is being “just with God”, and not whether or not we are touched by the hand of an evil being; for the hand of God which touched Job (Job 19:21) is the hand of ‘satan’ into whom God delivered Job temporarily (Job 1:12). Job says that the attitude of the friends is wrong- they should be looking into themselves, rather than fantasizing about the action of some unseen evil being they imagined: “Ye should say, Why persecute we him, seeing the root of the matter is found in me?… know that there is a [personal] judgment”(Job 19:28,29).

5. It can be argued that the book of Job is a dialogue concerning evil and suffering, with three popular views being represented by the three friends. These views are examined and corrected by the personal history of Job, as well as by the epilogue and prologue to the book. Eliphaz seems to be representative of the idea that Job is being hit by supernaturally controlled evil- Eliphaz speaks of a force of darkness (Job 22:10,11) and sinful or faulty Angels living in an unclean Heaven (Job 4:18; 15:15). Yet the answer to all this is that the Satan figure is under God’s control, all Job’s misfortunes come from God and His Angels- one of whom may have been called ‘the adversary’ (‘Satan’)- are in fact perfectly obedient to Him and not disobedient. And finally, Elpihaz and the friends are rebuked for their various wrong understandings, with God declaring Himself supreme and ultimate sovereign. Likewise Bildad’s view of Angels in Job 25:5 “The stars are not pure in God’s eyes” is corrected by God in Job 38:7, when He says that “the morning stars sang together and all the Sons of God shouted for joy”.


(1) Dianne Bergant, Job, Ecclesiastes (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1982) p. 27.

(2) Vladimir Propp, Theory And History Of Folklore, ed. Anatoly Liberman (Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 1984); Morphology Of The Folktale (Austin: University Of Texas Press, 1968).

5-4-1 The Satan In Job: A Fellow Worshipper?

Such a strong case can be made for the satan being a fellow worshipper that there simply must be some truth in it. ” There was a day [a set feast] when the sons of God [the believers- 1 Jn. 3:1; Mt. 5:9] came to present themselves before Yahweh [before a priest, or other representative of Yahweh, probably at an altar, Dt. 19:17; Ps. 42:2], and Satan came also among them” . Here we have a picture of an early ecclesia; scattered believers coming together for a special meeting, the forerunner of our breaking of bread service. As we walk, drive, ride on train or bus, to our memorial meetings, we are repeating what in principle has been done by the sons of God from earliest times. The Satan says he has been ” going to and from in the earth, and from walking up and down in it” (1:7). There is good reason, linguistically and theologically, to think that the events of Job occurred early in spiritual history (compare the mentions of ” Jobab” and some of the friends in 1 Chron. 5). There are also many links with the early chapters of Genesis. We should therefore see Satan’s description of himself as being in the context of Gen. 4:12-14, where Cain is made a wanderer in the earth because of his bitter jealousy against his righteous brother. So the satan may have been another believer who was in some sense ‘out of fellowship’, and yet still came to the gatherings of the believers to express his envy of Job. The reference to the sons of God coming together in worship before a priest or altar comes straight after the record of Job’s children holding rather riotous birthday parties (1:4). ” All the days” , each day, they did this, Job offered sacrifice for them (1:5 AVmg.); but then ” there was a day” when the sons of God came to keep a feast to Yahweh. It seems that we are led to connect the keeping of days. It could be that the sons of God were in fact Job’s children. They came together to party and kill their fatted calves, and then they came together to kill their sacrifices; but the difference was, that then they allowed the satan to come in among them. Young preachers, take your lesson.

It must be noted that the satan never occurs again, under that name. The real adversary of Job was his ” friends” ; and in God’s final judgment, it is they who are condemned, not ‘satan’. It is therefore reasonable to see a connection between the satan and the ‘friends’ of Job; they too walked to and fro in the earth in order to come to him, as it seems satan did at the beginning. And we pause here for another lesson. The great satan / adversary of Job turned out to be those he thought were his friends in the ecclesia. And so it has been, time and again, in our experience: our sorest trials often come from the words of our brethren. Without underestimating the physical affliction of Job, his real adversary was his brethren. Rather than bemoaning his physical affliction, he commented how his friends had become his satans (19:19) And so with the Lord Jesus, whom Job so accurately typified. Again, without minimizing the material agony of His flesh, the essential piercing was from His rejection at the hands of those He died for.

Consider the following hints that the friends were in fact the satan:

– There are several passages where Job speaks as if the friends were responsible for his physical persecution (e.g. 19:22,28); as if they had brought the calamity which the opening chapters make satan responsible for. He associates his deceitful brethren with the troops of Tema and the companies of Sheba which had fallen upon his cattle at satan’s behest (6:19). Job knew that the friends had power over his persecutors (6:24). They, Job said, had caused calamity to fall upon him, and thereby overwhelmed their one-time friend (6:27 AV mg.). They thought, as Satan did, that Job’s spirituality was only a sham (6:28).

– Job makes several references to the arguments of the satan in his replies to the friends; as if they were in fact the satan, and as if he knew perfectly well what they had said to Yahweh. Thus he tells the friends that those who provoke God are secure (12:6), whereas the satan had suggested that Job would provoke God to His face if his security was taken away. Job says that such people who provoke God have all things given into their hand by Yahweh; and it is hard not to see in this a reference to the satan, into whose hand Job had been delivered. It was as if Job was saying to them: ‘You are the ones who have provoked God, you are the ones into whose hand God has delivered me; so actually you are the wicked, not me’.

– The words of the friends suggest that their view was in fact that of the satan in the prologue. Satan obviously quibbled with God’s pronunciation of Job as perfect and upright (1:8). And Bildad likewise seems to allude to this when he comments concerning Job’s downfall: ” If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee” (8:6).

– There is reason to think that Eliphaz, the leader of the friends, may have been the specific individual referred to as ‘satan’ in the prologue. God singles him out for especial condemnation at the end (42:7). After one of Eliphaz’s speeches, Job responds with what appears to be a comment upon him, rather than God: ” He hath made me weary: thou hast made desolate all my company. And thou hast filled me with wrinkles…he teareth me in his wrath, who hateth me (surely Job speaks here about Eliphaz, not God): he gnasheth upon me…mine enemy (satan) sharpeneth his eyes upon me. They (the astonished friends?) have gaped upon me with their mouth, they have smitten me…they have gathered themselves together (as the friends did to Job) against me” (16:9-11). Eliphaz was a Temanite, from where Job’s afflictors came (6:19).

5-4-2 Job’s Satan: An Angel-Satan?

There is a quite different interpretation possible, which also has the ring of truth to it, just as much as the suggestion that the satan was a fellow worshipper, possibly Eliphaz, who infiltrated Job’s ecclesia through the weakness of his children. There is nothing in itself wrong with an Angel being called a satan- we have examples of this in Num. 22:22 and 1 Chron. 21:1. We know that Angels can’t sin: and yet they are limited in knowledge (e.g. Mt. 24:36). An Angel commented that now he knew that Abraham feared God, after he had seen his willingness to offer Isaac (Gen. 22:12); Israel’s guardian Angel lead them through the wilderness in order to learn about Israel’s spirituality (Dt. 8:2,3). God Himself, of course, already knew the hearts of men. The ” sons of God” , in the context of the book of Job, refer to the Angels (38:7). The sons of God coming before Yahweh suggests a scene in the court of Heaven, similar to that of 2 Chron. 18:19-21, where the Angels appear before Yahweh to discuss the case of Ahab, and then one Angel is empowered by God to carry out his suggestion. Satan going out from the presence of Yahweh, empowered by Him to afflict Job, would correspond with other references to Angels ‘going out’ from God’s presence to execute what had been agreed in the heavenly assembly (Ps. 37:36; 81:5; Zech. 2:3; 5:5; Lk. 22:22; Heb. 1:14). Satan describes himself as going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it (1:7)- using exactly the language of Zech. 1:11 concerning the Angels. The way that the satan smote Job with a skin disease (2:7) would suggest that he was not only a mere man; accepting an Angel-satan solves this problem. No unaided man could have brought a skin disease upon Job. If the satan refers to a righteous Angel, it is likewise easier to understand why all the problems which the satan brought are described as God bringing them (especially as Job may have conceived of God in terms of an Angel). It is also understandable why there is no rebuke of the satan at the end.

A Satan-Angel

Num. 22:22 describes how an Angel of God stood in a narrow, walled path before Balaam, so that his donkey fell down beneath him. That Angel is described as a “satan”, an adversary, to Balaam. Job comments how the sufferings which the ‘satan’ brought upon him were God ‘walling up my way that I cannot pass’ (Job 19:8). The connection is clear- and surely indicates that Job’s satan was a satan-Angel, acting as an adversary to Job just as such an Angel did to Balaam. Job and Balaam have certain similarities- both were prophets (in Job’s case see 4:4; 23:12; 29:4 cp. 15:8; Amos 3:7; James 5:10,11); both had genuine difficulty in understanding God’s ways, but they to varying degrees consciously rebelled against what they did understand; both thus became angry with God (in the Angel), and were reproved by God through being brought to consider the Angel-controlled natural creation. One suspects there are more links than this.

In Job 2:5 satan asks God: ” Put forth Thine hand” . The hand of God is a phrase often used concerning what God did through the Angels. God agrees- ” he is in thine hand” (v.6). Thus satan’s hand is God’s hand, which is an Angel. This is proof enough that satan is not in any way against God- they work together. Job seems to emphasize the place of God’s hand in bringing his trials- 2:5,6,10; 6:9; 10:7; 13:21; 19:21; 27:11 AVmg; 28:9. Job in 12:9 feels that in the same way as God’s hand had created the natural creation- and the Angels did this- so that same Angelic hand was upon him for evil. ” By His Spirit (God makes His Angels spirits) He hath garnished the Heavens; His hand hath formed the crooked serpent” (26:13). Thus Job associates God’s Spirit with His hand, which is satan’s hand. It seems far more fitting that this hand and spirit should be Angelic rather than human. Again, it was Angelic work that formed the Heavens. Job recognized that his trials came from the hand of God, but knew that His hand would not kill him- ” with Thy strong hand Thou opposest Thyself against me…howbeit He will not stretch out His hand to (bring me to) the grave” (30:21,24). This was exactly the brief given to satan- to try Job, but ” preserve his life” . The hand of God creating evil (2:10,11) must surely refer to God’s ” Angels of evil” (Ps.78:49) rather than to man- Cyrus had to be taught that no one except God (including human satans!) created evil (Is.45:5-7).

“Hast thou considered (lit. ‘set your heart upon’) My servant Job..?” (2:3) God asked satan initially. Later Job complains to God ” what is man, that Thou dost magnify him? and that Thou shouldest set Thy heart upon him? (lit. ‘consider him’)” (7:17). Thus Job sees God- whom he probably conceived of as an Angel- as considering him, whilst we are told earlier that satan / the adversary was told to do this. A human satan considering Job would not in itself have brought the trials, and Job would not have complained so bitterly about a human being considering him.

Angel Eyes

– The references to ‘wandering about on the face of the earth’ have great similarities with the language used to describe the Persian empire’s spies, called “The King’s Eye”- a kind of agent of the King who wandered around picking up information and reporting back to him. But of course, “The King’s Eye” was on the King’s side and not working against him! (1). Satan’s walking / running “to and fro in the earth / land” and reporting back to God about an individual is thus very much taken from the Persian idea of the King’s “evil eye”, “the eye of the King”, a kind of agent provocateur, a secret police-type agent, travelling around the Kingdom and reporting back to the King about suspect individuals. It also has an evident connection with the Zechariah passages which speaks of the Angels in the time of the exile and restoration from Persia “running to and fro in the earth” on God’s behalf (Zech. 1:10,11; 4:10). The implication of course was that God and His Angels, and not the Persian King and his agents, were the ones really in control of the land. It’s maybe significant that the Septuagint translates “going to and fro” in Job 1:7 with the word peripatei– and we find the same word in 1 Pet. 5:8 about the adversary of the early Christians ‘going about’ seeking them- a reference to the agents of the Roman and Jewish systems. I have elsewhere demonstrated that much of the Hebrew Bible was rewritten [under Divine inspiration] in Babylon, to bring out relevant issues for the Jewish exiles in Babylon (2). This includes the book of Job. It can be understood as an allegory- Job, the suffering servant of the Lord, becomes a type of Israel, the suffering servant of Isaiah’s later prophecies (3). There are many links between Isaiah’s prophecies and Job- a glance down the margin of most reference Bibles will indicate that. Just as the returning exiles faced ‘satans’ in the form of local Arabic opposition, so did Job. The Zechariah 3:1,2 passage uses the word ‘satan’ to describe this opposition to the returned exiles. Note that both Zechariah 3 and Job 1 use the idea of a Heavenly court. As God put a fence around Job (Job 1:10), so He was a “wall of fire” to the returning exiles (Zech. 2:5). And his final triumph and restoration, by God’s grace, was intended as a prototype for Judah in captivity. J.B. Russell mentions a Babylonian document consisting of a dialogue between a sufferer and his friend (4). Perhaps the re-writing of the book of Job during Judah’s captivity in Babylon was intended as a counter to this, explaining Yahweh’s perspective on suffering.

Further Insights

– 5:7 ” Man is born unto trouble, as the sons of the burning coal lift up to fly” (AVmg.) is using Angel-Cherubim language to say that it is inevitable that our Angels will bring trials into our lives.

– 14:3 ” Dost thou open Thine eyes (Angels) upon such an one, and bringest me into judgement with Thee?” . Job here seems to be able to sense when the Angels were closely present in his life- he seems to be asking why God is using His Angel-eyes to take such a special interest in him; why God has asked His Angel to ” consider My servant Job” .

– 16:9 ” He gnasheth upon me with His teeth; mine enemy sharpeneth His eyes upon me” . In the context, Job seems to be perceiving God as his enemy, and we have shown that God’s eyes often refer to the Angels.

– 6:9,10 ” Oh…that He would let loose His hand, and cut me off…I have not concealed the words of the Holy One” . We have shown that God’s hand was satan’s hand and that the satan Angel was forbidden to ” cut (Job) off” as both Job and the Angel requested. Job associates the satan with the Holy One, which is also Angelic language. Job being a prophet (see notes on 19:8), he would have received revelation from an Angel. He did not conceal the word of this ” Holy One” .

– 1:14 ” And there came a messenger (Heb. ‘malak’) unto Job” with news of the calamities brought by the satan Angel. It would be understandable if that ‘malak’ should have been translated ‘Angel’ seeing there is so much other Angelic language in this area.

– 1:16,19 Job’s sons were killed by wind and fire- both of which are associated with Angelic manifestation.

– It may be that Job’s satan Angel was the Angel representing the three friends (satans) of Job. Because of His close identification with them, the satan Angel spoke their thoughts as if they were his own- e.g. compare Eliphaz’s thoughts of 4:5 with satan’s words of 1:9,10.

And yet the question arises: which interpretation is correct? Was the Angel a doubting believer, or a righteous Angel? These two approaches are not irreconcilable. In the same way as the earthly tabernacle was a pattern of the Heavenly system (Heb. 9:24), so it would appear that each of us has an Angelic representative in Heaven, appearing before the presence of God’s glory in what we are invited to see as the court of Heaven. Angels can also represent a whole group- e.g., an ecclesia (Rev. 1:20). So closely identified with their charges are these Angels, that they themselves are rebuked (e.g. Rev. 2:5)- not that they sinned, of course, but because they represented those ecclesias in the Heavenly court.


(1) More documentation of this in Rivkah Kluger, The Satan Of The Old Testament (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1967). This view is confirmed in other research by Harry Torczyner, The Book Of Job (Jerusalem: Kiryat-Sefer, 1981) pp. 38-45. Note that Torczyner also interprets the Satan as being in God’s service, and not in opposition to Him: “The figure and role of the Satan derives from the Persian secret service… We now understand that there are in God’s service, as in that of any earthly king, secret roving officials, who go and come and report to him on the doings of his subjects”.

(2) See my Bible Lives Chapter 11.

(3) I have traced the similarities between Job and Israel, and Job and the “suffering servant”, in Bible Lives Sections 3-1-3, 3-1-5 and 3-3-7.

(4) J.B. Russell, The Devil (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977) p. 87.

5-4-3 The Deconstruction Of The ‘Satan’ Myth In Job

It strikes me as ironic that the mention of ‘Satan’ in the early chapters of Job has been speed-read as evidence for the orthodox concept of Satan as an evil being in opposition to God. For on closer reading of Job, especially against its background of Canaanite and Babylonian myths about Satan, it becomes apparent that one purpose of the book is to deconstruct the myth of an evil ‘Satan’ figure. The epic poem demonstrates that God is all powerful, the ultimate source of calamity, and yet He works through this to the ultimate happy blessing of His children.

It has been correctly observed that we don’t read of ‘Satan’ after the prologue to Job. Instead we read only of God bringing the afflictions into Job’s life. But the friends, and Job himself, struggle to explain those afflictions in terms of the current ideas in the surrounding world. This may not be immediately evident, because the Hebrew of Job is notoriously hard to translate. But closer attention to the text reveals that there is repeated mention of the various beings and forces of evil which were thought to be in competition with God. It seems that the story of Job originated very early in Biblical history, in the times of the patriarchs. And yet the book has many connections with the latter half of Isaiah- just take a glance down the marginal cross references in Job, and see how often the later chapters of Isaiah are referenced. My suggestion is that the book was rewritten and edited [under Divine inspiration] during the captivity in Babylon, as a message especially relevant for the Jewish exiles as they struggled with the temptation to accept Babylonian mythological explanations of evil. This would explain the allusions to both early Canaanite and later Babylonian views of the ‘Satan’ figure. And we recall from Is. 45:5-7 how Israel’s God was at pains to remind the exiles of His omnipotence, that He is the only God and source of power in creation, and that both good and disaster, light and darkness, are ultimately His creation; and the surrounding Gentile myths about these things were totally wrong. This is in fact the theme of the book of Job. Susan Garrett points out how Babylonian views of a dualistic cosmos, with God creating good and the ‘Satan’ figure creating evil, began to influence Jewish thought. She shares my view that the purpose of the book of Job was to counter this: “The story of Job checked an escalation in the power and authority that were ascribed to the Satan-figure, by the repeated and unambiguous assertions in Job 1-2 that Satan had obtained the authority to test Job from none other than God” (1).

The references to ‘Satan’-like beings and related myths in the book of Job is in order to ultimately deconstruct them as false, and to re-iterate the utter omnipotence of Yahweh as the only source of power, the only God. And this of course we would expect from an Old Testament, God-inspired book. It’s been suggested by literary critics that the prologue which mentions Satan (Job chapters 1 and 2) and epilogue (Job 42:7-17) were likely written before the poetic discourses- they appear to be “an Israelite revision of an older Canaanite or Edomite epic poem expressing their views on the age-old problem of evil” (2). Thus those ideas are alluded to and deconstructed- God is presented as all powerful, and the ‘Satan’ beliefs as untrue.

Job is poetry, and poetry works by using familiar words and images in new ways. Hence myths can be alluded to and used, but in order to present them in a different context and to achieve more powerfully a conclusion rather than just baldly stating it; i.e. that Yahweh is all powerful and that there are actually no abiding realities behind the myths. Thus poetry is an appropriate medium through which to articulate this message. “The deceived and the deceiver are His” is poetry which even comes through somewhat in translation (Job 12:16). The expectation is that the deceiver is Satan, and God is with or sympathetic to the deceived. But no. Such dualistic expectations are set up, but crushed at the end of the strophe: both deceived and deceiver are God’s. For there is no dualistic cosmos out there.

The Court Of Heaven

The prologue opens with the court of Heaven. I have earlier suggested that the ‘Satan’ figure is not in itself evil, but could refer to an Angel [a ‘good’ one, as I submit there are no ‘sinful’ Angels], or an Angel representative of a fellow worshipper on earth. The debates in Heaven between the Angels, the will of God as articulated there, is then reflected and carried out on earth- rather like how in Daniel 1-6 we have events on earth described in historical terms, and then we are given an insight into what’s been going on in Heaven in Daniel 7-12. Yet the court / legal language continues throughout the book- e.g. Job is “perfect”, i.e. legally blameless. Job appeals for ‘witnesses’ (Job 9:33-35; 16:18-22; 19:20-27), an advocate in Heaven (Job 9:33), denies his guilt and demands a legal list of his sins (Job 13:19), he wishes for God to come to trial (Job 9:3), and thus Job is described as a man who has taken out a ‘case’ with God (Job 23:4; 40:2). Job 29-31 is effectively Job’s declaration of legal innocence and an appeal to God to hear his case more sympathetically (Job 31:35). And of course God pronounces a final legal verdict at the very end (Job 42:7), in response to Job’s earlier plea: “Sleeplessly I wait for His reply” (Job 16:22). It’s as if the whole experience of Job was [at least partly] in order to test out the Canaanite theories of ‘Satan’, suffering and evil in the court of Heaven. The friends represent the traditional views of evil, and often make reference to the myths of their day about ‘Satan’ figures. They speak as if they are the final court- Eliphaz speaks of how the judges and elders of their day, the “holy ones”, had concluded Job was guilty, and that they, the friends, were right: “To which of the holy ones will you appeal [legal language]?… we have [legally] examined this, and it [Job’s guilt] is true” (Job 5:1,27). This is of great comfort to those who feel misjudged by man- above them in Heaven the ultimate Heavenly court is considering our case, and that is all that matters. Job perhaps perceived this, even though the vision of the court of Heaven in chapters 1 and 2 was presumably unknown to him as he endured his sufferings; for in response to the friends’ wrong judgment of him, he comments that “God covers the faces of the judges of the earth” (Job 9:24). The final summing up speeches from both God and Job simply emphasize the omnipotence of God; how ultimately He has been the adversary to Job, and there is no room in the cosmos of His creation for any other power, especially any of the various personal ‘Satan’ figures believed in by the worlds of both Canaan and Babylon. The heavenly court of “sons of God” is paralleled with all the stars in Job 38:7. Bear in mind that the stars were understood as pagan deities. The whole pagan understanding of the cosmos is being deconstructed. The stars are paralleled with the Angelic sons of God who are all totally under God’s control; they are His Heavenly court.

The legal language of the book of Job has far reaching implications. We have noted the many connections between Job and the latter part of Isaiah, where again there is the impression of ‘God in the dock’, a cosmic trial of truth. The gods of the nations are invited to present their best cases, to demonstrate their reality against the claims of Yahweh, Israel’s God, to be the only true God. In this trial, the suffering servant is the witness used by God. And this in turn is the basis for the same lawsuit motif in the Gospel of John, where the witness is the Lord Jesus as the suffering servant, and by extension all those in Him (3). Indeed there appear to be seven witnesses in John: John the baptist (Jn. 1:7), Jesus Himself (Jn. 3:11), the Samaritan woman (Jn. 4:39), God Himself (Jn. 5:32), the miracles (Jn. 5:36), the Old Testament (Jn. 5:39) and the crowd (Jn. 12:17). John presents the cross as the decisive verdict, linking back to a similar verdict pronounced in Isaiah, which in turn has as its basis the final verdict of Yahweh in support of Job against the beliefs of the friends in the various ‘Satan’ gods of Canaan and Babylonia.

Leviathan And Behemoth

These monster figures appear at the end of the book of Job, forming a kind of inclusio with the opening reference to Satan; and they are clearly part of God’s final answer to Job’s “case”. Behe-mot can be understood as a reference to Mot, the Canaanite god of death; and Leviathan appears to be the Canaanite version of the orthodox ‘Satan’ figure, perhaps a reference to the ‘Lotan’ of the Ugaritic myths. In great detail, these figures are deconstructed. They are shown to be created beings- created by the one almighty God of the Old Testament, to be completely under His control to the point that He can even tease them, so enormously greater is His power than theirs. These Canaanite ‘Satan’ figures are thereby shown to have no significant existence; and they certainly don’t exist as opposed to God. They are totally under His control. And yet these monster figures clearly have characteristics shared by known animals, such as the hippopotamus, crocodile etc. Those similarities are intended. It’s been well observed: “To say that Leviathan has characteristics of the crocodile and the whale is not to say that it is such a creature, but rather to suggest that evil is rooted in the natural world” (4)- and the point is so laboured in Job that the natural world is of God’s complete creation. ‘Evil’ in a form independent of Him, in radical opposition to Him, simply isn’t there. It is He who not only created Behemoth, but can effortlessly control him in accord with His purpose (Job 40:15). That’s the comfort of the message. Indeed the descriptions of the natural world which lead up to the Leviathan / Behemoth passages are there to underline this point; and it’s interesting that those passages zoom in upon the cruelties and even brutalities within nature. Yet these are all of God’s ultimate design and creation, and under His providential control. Job had earlier perceived this; for he responds to the friends’ allusions to an evil ‘Satan’ figure as the source of his suffering by observing: “Ask the animals… the birds of the air… [they show that] the hand of the Lord [and not any supernatural ‘Satan’] has done this” (Job 12:7-9). Ginzberg demonstrates that the Jews saw the monster ‘Rahab’ and Leviathan as the same entity (5); and twice Job stresses how infinitely greater than Rahab is Yahweh. When God starts speaking about Leviathan, He is therefore confirming the truth of what Job has earlier said about His power over Rahab / Leviathan. The context of Job’s comments was to answer the theories of the friends- and God is as it were confirming that Job’s deconstruction of their ‘Satan’ theories was correct. The same Hebrew words are used about God’s binding and loosing of the stars [which were thought to control evil on earth] and His binding, loosing and opening of Leviathan’s mouth (Job 38:31 cp. Job 40:29). Whether or not Leviathan / a ‘Satan’ figure, or the bad stars, are for real… God is in utter control of them, and there is thus no conflict, no war in Heaven, no ultimate dualism at all in the cosmos. Which is just the message we would expect from a monotheistic Old Testament book. Israel’s God is truly the Almighty. Just as Job is described as God’s “servant” (Job 1:8), so is Leviathan (Job 40:28; 41:4). No evil power uncontrolled by God is at work in Job’s life. We also need to give due weight to the fact that God speaks the Leviathan / Behemoth passages “out of the storm”, which had been gathering since Job 37:2. This is significant because storms were seen as manifestations of evil powers. Yet here (and elsewhere in Scripture), the one true God speaks out of such storms, to demonstrate how far greater He is than any storm god; and showing by implication that such storm gods don’t exist, and the ‘evil’ which supposedly came from them was in fact under His control.

Much of the language used about Leviathan and Behemoth is also used about God’s manifestation of Himself:



Smoke from nostrils, flame from mouth (Job 41:11,12)

Ps. 18:8 identical

Strength before and dismay behind (Job 41:14 Heb.)

Pestilence before and plague behind (Hab. 3:5)

Strong ones and leaders cringe in fear (Job 41:17 Heb.)

Earth reels (Ps. 18:7); mountains tremble (Hab. 3:6)

Deep sea stirred up (Job 41:23,24 Heb.)

Deep sea laid bare (Ps. 18:5)

Terrible teeth

Job felt that God was gnashing His teeth at him (Job 16:9)

Breath carries men away

The breath of God’s mouth will carry away the wicked (Job 15:30)

On earth there is not his equal (Job 41:33)

Only ultimately true of God

Leviathan is called the ‘cruel one’ (Job 41:10)- and the very same word is used by Job about God in His afflicting Job in Job 30:21. Leviathan, the seemingly overbearing power of evil in the world, is in fact a manifestation of God to such an intense degree that effectively it ‘is’ God; God, ultimately, is the adversary / satan to Job. The epilogue and prologue to Job are evidently related. Job begins sitting in dust and ashes and ends repenting in dust and ashes (Job 2:8; 42:4). The silence of the friends at the opening of the book is matched by the silence after God has finally spoken (Job 40:4). Job intercedes for his children (Job 1:5) and ends up interceding for his friends. Job begins with the description of being the Lord’s servant; and the book concludes on the same note (Job 42:7,8). The question of course is: ‘So what’s the equivalent of the ‘Satan’ figure in the epilogue?’. The omission is intended and obvious. Ultimately the answer is the essence of the whole book: the ‘satan’, the adversary, is none other than God Himself, in His love.

The Captivity Context

There are several allusions in Job to Babylonian legends concerning Marduk- indicating that the book must have been re-written in Babylon with allusion to these legends. Thus the Enuma Elish 4.139,140 speaks of how Marduk limited the waters of Tiamat, and set up a bar and watchmen so that the waters wouldn’t go further than he permitted. But this very language is applied to God in Job 7:12 and Job 38:8-11. One of the purposes of Job was to urge Judah that Yahweh was greater than Marduk, He and not Marduk was to be Israel’s God.

In passing, it’s significant that dragons in the form of serpents were common in Babylonian theology. Figures on vases show serpent griffins, there was one on Marduk’s temple in Nippur, and also on the Ishtar Gate in Babylon. These would have been familiar to Judah in Babylonian captivity; and we have suggested that the book of Job was edited there, under inspiration, for their benefit. They may well have seen a similarity between the Babylonian monsters and the Leviathan / Behemoth beasts. That God is greater than Leviathan and can do what He wills with him would therefore have had a special meaning to the faithful Jew in exile. In a restoration context, Isaiah comforted Judah that God would destroy “Leviathan the gliding serpent; He will slay the monster of the sea” (Is. 27:1). The real ‘monster’ faced by Judah in exile wasn’t a supernatural being; it was a concrete kingdom of men on earth, namely Babylon. God taught Job, and through him showcased to the watching world, that all such imaginations of Leviathan, monsters in the raging sea, crooked serpents etc. were vain- in any case, God had created them and used them to do His will with His people, symbolized as they were by Job. His sitting in dust and ashes is very much the picture of Judah sitting by the rivers of Babylon, bemoaning their losses. The language of Job’s captivity being ‘turned’ (Job 42:10) is the very term used about the restoration of Judah from Babylon (Jer. 29:14; Ps. 126:4).

Other References To Canaanite / Babylonian Ideas Of ‘Satan’

The sea was understood to be the abode of evil monsters. Yet Job stresses how God is in control of the raging sea. Just look out for all the references to the sea in Job (6). God artlessly claims to have created the sea (Job 38:8-11). In the Canaanite pantheon, Baal was seen as well matched in conflict by Yam, the sea god. But it’s emphasized by God that He created the sea, shuts it up within bounds, brought it out from the womb (Job 38:8). In Canaanite myth, Aquhat [another ‘Satan’ figure in their theology] could alone “count the months” (7)- but the same phrase is used in Job 39:2 about how God alone has this power. As God ‘shut up’ Job (Job 1:10), so He could ‘shut up’ the sea, with all the evil associated with it (Job 38:8). For at creation, He had commanded the waters where to go and they obeyed just one word from Him. The point is, God is using poetry to reframe these pagan myths in the context of His omnipotence, to show that His awesome power means that there’s no room left for these supposed beings to exist. It’s noteworthy that many times the Bible speaks of the power of God over raging seas- for the sea was so deeply associated with evil in the minds of Semitic peoples (e.g. Ps. 77:19; 93:4 and the fact that three of the Gospels emphasize how Jesus walked over raging sea- Mt. 8:23-27; Mk. 4:36-41; Lk. 8:22-25; “Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey Him!”).

Baal was temporarily conquered by Mot, and the Ugaritic poem about their conflict which was found in the Ras Shamra texts speaks of how Baal was made a “slave for ever” (8). This very language is picked up in Job 41:4, where God mocks that in no way would He become a “slave for ever”. The allusion shows that the one true God is in no way Baal. He is greater than Baal. Unlike Baal, He is in no conflict with Mot nor anyone. Baal’s sister, Anath, muzzled a dragon with great difficulty- but Yahweh muzzled Leviathan and then sported with him (Job 41:1-5). The poem challenges Baal to “Pierce through Lotan the serpent, destroy the serpent the seven headed tyrant” (9). Yet this is exactly the language picked up in Is. 27:1: “Yahweh will punish with His powerful, great and mighty sword Leviathan the serpent, Leviathan the serpent, and He will slay the dragon”. Yahweh’s utter supremacy over any other god is so great that it makes all ideas of cosmic conflict simply laughable. Ps. 92;10 likewise: “Lo, thine enemies, I YHWH, lo, thine enemies shall perish, all evil doers shall be scattered” alludes to Part 3 lines 8 and 9 of the poem about the Mot-Baal conflict: “Lo, thine enemies, O Baal, lo thine enemies wilt thou pierce through, lo, thou wilt destroy thine adversaries” (10). Note too that Baal’s enemies, i.e. Mot and the demons of the underworld, are paralleled with “evildoers”. Human sinners rather than demons are the real issue.

Job’s Theology

Significantly, it is the friends who make allusion to the ‘Satan’ figures and gods as if they are real, whereas Job in his responses always denies their reality and sees God as the direct source of His sufferings. Bildad speaks of how Job’s troubles are to be associated with “the king of terrors” (Job 18:14); Eliphaz blames them upon the “sons of Resheph” (Job 5:7); but Job’s response is that the source of the evil in his life is ultimately from God and not any such being. Eliphaz there speaks of how man’s trouble comes “as the sons of Resheph fly upwards”. Resheph was known as “the lord of the arrow” and the Ugaritic tablets associate him with archery (11). We would therefore be justified in reading in an ellipsis here: man’s trouble comes “as the [arrows of] the sons of Resheph fly upwards”. Job’s response is that “The arrows of the Almighty are in me” (Job 6:4), and he lament that God is an archer using him as his target for practice (Job 7:20; 16:12,13). Job refuses to accept Eliphaz’s explanation that Job is a victim of Resheph’s arrows. For Job, if God is “the Almighty” then there is no space left for Resheph. Each blow he received, each arrow strike, was from God and not Resheph.

Job makes the amazing comment: “If although He slays me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). The language of ‘slaying’ takes us back to the Mosaic commands about how a ‘slayer’ of a man might be killed by the ‘avenger of blood’. Job saw God as slaying him; yet he also sees God as the ‘witness’ in the case (Job 16:19), and the avenger of Job’s blood (Job 19:25). Job even asks God to not let the earth cover his blood, so that God as the avenger of Job’s blood may avenge Job’s death (Job 16:18). Job does not see ‘Satan’ as his slayer, and God as the avenger of his blood. Instead Job- in a quite breathtaking set of associations- sees God in all these things: the slayer, the legal witness to the slayer, the avenger of blood, and the One who will enforce the doing of justice in this case, the One who will not let the earth cover Job’s blood. If Job really believed in a superhuman Satan, in Satan as the bad guy and God as the avenger of the injustice, he surely would’ve expressed himself differently. As Job imagines God as it were taking vengeance on Himself, so he came to portray for all time the way that evil and good are indeed both ultimately from God.

Job begins the book by being described as a man who shunned [the Hebrew word is also translated “to be without” and “to reject”] ra, “evil”. Michel understands ra here to refer to ‘the evil one’, the Canaanite god of evil, whom Job disbelieved and rejected (12). Job says that the friends who came to mourn with him were “ready to raise up Leviathan” (Job 3:8)- or, as it can also be translated with allusion to the friends, “to raise up their mourning” (see A.V.). They thought that Leviathan, the ‘Satan’ figure they believed was real, could be blamed. But Job continually sees God as the ultimate source of what had happened to him, and understood the whole matter in terms of ‘how can a man be just with God’ rather than ‘how can a man get Satan off his back?’. A key passage is Job 9:24: “If it be not he, who then is it?” (R.V.); or as the G.N.B. puts it: “If God didn’t do it, who did?”. After all the theories of ‘Who’s responsible for all this evil in Job’s life?’, Job concludes that the source simply has to be God- and not anyone else. If He truly is all powerful, then who else could ultimately be responsible? Job states that “the cohorts of Rahab [a Canaanite ‘Satan’ figure] shall stoop under [God]” (Job 9:13), clearly alluding to the helpers of Tiamat in the Babylonian myth. “God alone stretches out the heavens, and treads on the back of Yam”- the sea, or sea-monster (Job 9:8). Job believed that it was God who was seeking to swallow him up in death (Job 10:8 Heb.)- surely alluding to how Mot, the god of death, was thought to have jaws encompassing the earth and swallowing up people at their death into the underworld. But Job rejected that myth- he saw God as the swallower, and death as a return to the dust, albeit in hope of bodily resurrection at the last day (Job 19:25-27). Perhaps Job is also alluding to the myths about Mot when he speaks of how “Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering” (Job 26:6 R.S.V.); and in that context speaks as if God is the real attacker, not, therefore, Mot or any other such being. Note too how Num. 16:31-35 describes God as swallowing up Korah, Dathan and Abiram into death in the earth- as if to deconstruct the idea that Mot did things like this.

Job understood God to be in control in Heaven; he rejects the idea of a cosmic conflict going on ‘up there’ which the friends seem to allude to. More specifically, Job speaks of how God’s hand forms and can pierce the “crooked serpent” and smite any monster (Job 26:11-14). It’s as if Job is mocking the idea that God has let him go into the hands of the cosmic monsters which the friends believed in. For Job so often stresses that it is the “hand of God” which has brought His affliction (Job 19:21; 23:2). That Divine hand was far greater than any mythical ‘Satan’ figure. The theme of his speech in Job 28 is that Yahweh alone is to be feared throughout the entire cosmos. Nobody else- such as the ‘Satan’ figures alluded to by the friends- needed to be feared.

Job understands that it is God who sends the good and evil, the light and the darkness, into his life (Job 30:26). Significantly, he states his faith that God even marks out the boundary between light and darkness (Job 26:10)- a similar idea in essence to the reassurance of Is. 45:5 that God creates both light and darkness. The ‘darkness’, however we experience and understand it, is framed and limited by God; it is not a power or being with independent existence outside the realm of God’s power. God confirms Job’s understanding later, when He says that it is He who can swaddle the sea [another figure for uncontrollable evil] in bands of darkness (Job 38:9)- as if to say that it is God who gives things like darkness and the sea their sinister appearance and perception by men; but He is in control of them, using them in His hand. Job’s idea that God fixes limits for the darkness is repeated by God saying that He sets limits for the raging sea (Job 38:10 N.I.V.). God controls evil, or our perception of it (e.g.of the sea as being evil), and He sets limits for it- which was exactly what He did to the power of ‘Satan’ in the prologue to Job. All these statements by God about His use of and power over things like darkness and sea, with the perceptions of them as being independent forces of evil, are quite different to Canaanite and Babylonian views of creation. In them, gods like Baal had to fight Yam, the evil sea god, with clubs provided by other deities; in the Babylonian version, Marduk has to arm himself with various weapons in order to try to get supremacy over Tiamat (13). But Yahweh as revealed in the book of Job has utter and absolute power over the sea [monster] and the [supposed god of] darkness- for He created the sea and the darkness and uses them creatively for His purpose. That’s the whole purpose of the many ‘nature passages’ in the book of Job. And the language of Genesis 1:9 is evidence enough of His power. He speaks a word- and light, darkness and seas are created, the waters gathering obediently where He commands them. Likewise God isn’t in any battle with Leviathan- rather is the monster actually His “plaything” (Ps. 104:26 says likewise).

What Job Learnt

It was so hard for Job to accept that God and not any orthodox ‘Satan’ figure was his adversary. It’s one thing to deduce from the Bible that both good and disaster comes from the Lord, as per Is. 45:5-7. It’s of course quite another to accept it in real life, and Job is an inspiring example. Job 16:9-14 is so powerful- the poetry speaks of Job’s awesome and even angry realization that God is in fact [in a sense] his enemy / adversary. “Here Job… identifies God as his enemy rather than his advocate. From his perspective he is led to wonder if the God in whom he trusted is not in reality his satan” (14). In Job 2:4-6 we have the ‘Satan’ commenting that Job’s flesh and skin need to be harmed; but in Job 19:26 we have Job stating his faith that even though God destroys his flesh and skin, yet God shall ultimately save him.

I have pointed out that Job all through rejects the ideas promoted by the friends, the view of traditional wisdom (especially emphasized by Bildad, Job 8:8-10), that various supernatural ‘Satan’ monsters and figures were responsible for his experiences. Job began by saying that we receive both good and evil from God’s hand (Job 2:10 cp. Is. 45:5-7). And he ends saying the same- that the Lord brought the trouble upon him (Job 42:11). He repeatedly sees God as the source of all his affliction. Hence God can say that Job has spoken about Him that which is right (Job 42:8). But Job came to realize the massive practical extent of what he had previously known in theory, what he had “by the hearing of the ear”. Now his eye saw / perceived that truly no plan of God can be thwarted, by any of the various ‘Satan’ monsters imagined by men (Job 42:2). We too may say that we believe in the omnipotence of God; but such a belief requires us to throw out all beliefs in supernatural satan figures. And that’s not a merely intellectual exercise; to see the tragedies and cruelties of our lives as being ultimately from God and under His control is something which shakes us to the core. God almost jokes with Job, that he had been trying to draw out Leviathan with a fish hook (Job 41:1), and I see that as a commentary upon so many human attempts to get a handle on the way God is the adversary / satan figure in our lives. Shrugging it off as chance and bad luck, believing in a personal Satan in the sea or in Heaven, thinking God is punishing us… all this is trying to capture Leviathan with a mere fishing rod. The book of Job isn’t an explanation for specific human suffering- and many who turn to the book looking for that come away disappointed. Rather is it an account of God’s sovereign power, putting meaning into the word “All-mighty” when applied to God. On a ‘doctrinal’ level it is indeed a deconstruction of the ideas of supernatural ‘Satan’ figures. But on a more personal level, it challenges us to follow in Job’s faithful footsteps, as it challenged Judah in captivity.


(1) Susan Garrett, The Temptations Of Jesus In Mark’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) p. 49.

(2) Douglas Wingeier, What About The Devil? A Study Of Satan In The Bible And Christian Tradition (Nashville: Abingdon, 2006) p. 15. More documentation of this is to be found in The Interpreter’s Bible , ed. George Buttrick, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1954) Vol. 3 pp. 878,879.

(3) Expounded at length in Andrew Lincoln, Truth On Trial: The Lawsuit Motif In The Fourth Gospel (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2000).

(4) Robert S. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You: Images Of Creation And Evil In The Book Of Job (Leicester: I.V.P. / Apollos, 2002) p. 27.

(5) L. Ginzberg, The Legends Of The Jews (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1909) Vol. 5 p.26.

(6) J. Day, God’s Conflict With The Dragon And The Sea: Echoes Of A Canaanite Myth In The Old Testament (Cambridge: C.U.P., 1985). The book of Daniel perhaps makes the same point- the beasts that arise out of the raging sea are all under God’s control and part of His purpose with Israel (Dan. 7:2).

(7) Robert S. Fyall, op cit p. 75.

(8) Umberto Cassuto, Biblical And Oriental Studies (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1975) Vol. 2 p. 6.
(9) Cassuto,
ibid p. 7.
(10) Cassuto,
ibid p. 8. 

(11) William J. Fulco, The Canaanite God Resep (New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society, 1976).

(12) W.L. Michel, Job In The Light Of Northwest Semitic (Rome: Bible Institute Press, 1987) Vol. 1 p. 29.

(13) S. Dalley, Myths From Mesopotomia: Vol. 4, The Epic Of Creation (Oxford: O.U.P., 1989) pp. 251-255.

(14) J.E. Hartley, The Book Of Job (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) p. 302.

5-5 Lucifer King Of Babylon

Isaiah 14: 12-14: “How art thou fallen from heaven , O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High”.

Popular Interpretation

It is assumed that Lucifer was once a powerful angel who sinned at Adam’s time and was therefore cast down to earth, where he is making trouble for God’s people.


1. The words “devil” , “satan” and “angel” never occur in this chapter. This is the only place in Scripture where the word “Lucifer” occurs.

2. There is no evidence that Isaiah 14 is describing anything that happened in the garden of Eden; if it is, then why are we left 3,000 years from the time of Genesis before being told what really happened there?

3. Lucifer is described as being covered in worms (v. 11) and mocked by men (v. 16) because he no longer has any power after his casting out of heaven (vs. 5-8); so there is no justification for thinking that Lucifer is now on earth leading believers astray.

4. Why is Lucifer punished for saying, “I will ascend into heaven” (v. 13), if he was already there?

5. Lucifer is to rot in the grave: “Thy pomp is brought down to the grave…and the worms cover thee” (v. 11). Seeing angels cannot die (Lk. 20:35-36), Lucifer therefore cannot be an angel; the language is more suited to a man.

6. Verses 13 and 14 have connections with 2 Thessalonians 2: 3-4, which is about the “man of sin” – thus Lucifer points forward to another man, perhaps another king of latter day Babylon- but not to an angel.

7. It should be noted that the idea of ‘morning star’ is translated ‘Lucifer’ in the Vulgate [Latin] translation of the Bible made by Jerome. Significantly, he uses ‘Lucifer’ as a description of Christ, as the ‘morning star’ mentioned in Revelation. Indeed, some early Christians took the name ‘Lucifer’ as a ‘Christian name’ in order to identify themselves with Jesus (1). It wasn’t until Origen that the term ‘Lucifer’ took on any connotation of ‘Satan’ or a force of evil; and even then it was only popularized much later in Milton’s Paradise Lost . ‘Lucifer’ in its strict meaning of ‘bearer of the light’ actually was applied in a positive sense to Christian communities, e.g. the followers of Lucifer of Cagliari were called ‘Luciferians’. As an aside, it’s worth pointing out that they were one of the groups who insisted that the devil was not a personal being and held to the original Biblical picture of sin and the devil (2).

Suggested Explanations

1. The N.I.V. and other modern versions have set out the text of Isaiah chapters 13-23 as a series of “burdens” on various nations, e.g. Babylon, Tyre, Egypt. Isaiah 14: 4, sets the context of the verses we are considering: “Thou shalt take up this proverb (parable) against the king of Babylon…”. The prophecy is therefore about the human king of Babylon, who is described as “Lucifer”. On his fall: “they that see thee shall…consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble…?” (v. 16). Thus Lucifer is clearly defined as a man.

2. Because Lucifer was a human king , “All kings of the nations…shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us?” (vs. 9-10). Lucifer was therefore a king like any other king.

3. Verse 20 says that Lucifer’s seed will be destroyed. Verse 22 says that Babylon’s seed will be destroyed, thus equating them.

4. Remember that this is a “proverb (parable) against the king of Babylon” (v. 4). “Lucifer” means “the morning star”, which is the brightest of the stars. In the parable, this star proudly decides to “ascend (higher) into heaven…exalt my throne above the (other) stars of God” (v. 13). Because of this, the star is cast down to the earth. The star represents the king of Babylon. Daniel chapter 4 explains how Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, proudly surveyed the great kingdom he had built up, thinking that he had conquered other nations in his own strength, rather than recognizing that God had given him success. “Thy greatness (pride) is grown, and reacheth unto heaven” (v.22). Because of this “he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws” (v. 33). This sudden humbling of one of the world’s most powerful men to a deranged lunatic was such a dramatic event as to call for the parable about the falling of the morning star from heaven to earth. Stars are symbolic of powerful people, e.g. Genesis 37: 9; Isaiah 13:10 (concerning the leaders of Babylon); Ezekiel 32: 7 (concerning the leaders of Egypt); Daniel 8:10, cp. v. 24. Ascending to heaven and falling from heaven are Biblical idioms often used for increasing in pride and being humbled respectively – see Job 20: 6; Jeremiah 51:53 ( about Babylon); Lamentations 2 :1; Matthew 11:23 (about Capernaum): “Thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell” (the grave). Adam Clarke’s commentary rightly notes: “The truth is, the text speaks nothing at all concerning Satan nor his fall… but of the pride, arrogance and fall of Nebuchadnezzar”.

5. Verse 17 accuses Lucifer of making the “world as a wilderness, (destroying) the cities thereof; that let not loose his prisoners to their home…(that did) fill the face of the world with cities…the exactress of gold” (vs 17 & 21 R.V.; v. 4 A.V. margin). These are all descriptions of Babylonian military policy – razing whole areas to the ground (as they did to Jerusalem), transporting captives to other areas and not letting them return to their homeland (as they did to the Jews), building new cities and taking tribute of gold from nations they oppressed. Thus there is emphasis on the fact that Lucifer was not even going to get the burial these other kings had (vs. 18-19), implying that he was only a human king like them, seeing his body needed burying. Is. 14:8 records the relief that now the “Lucifer” figure would no longer cut down cedars in Lebanon and hew mountains. This is exactly the language used by Nebuchadnezzar: “What no former king had done, I achieved: I cut through steep mountains, I split rocks, I opened passages and constructed a straight road for the transport of Cedars… to Marduk, my king, mighty cedars… the abundant yield of the Lebanon” (3). Clearly the figure spoken of in Is. 14 was Nebuchadnezzar.

6. Verse 12 says that Lucifer was to be “cut down to the ground” – implying he was a tree. This provides a further link with Daniel 4: 8-16, where Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon are likened to a tree being cut down.

7. Babylon and Assyria are often interchangeable phrases in the prophets, thus, having spoken of the demise of the king of Babylon, v. 25 says, “I will break the Assyrian…”. The prophecies about Babylon in Isaiah 47, are repeated concerning Assyria in Nahum 3: 4, 5, & 18, and Zephaniah 2 :13 & 15; and 2 Chronicles 33:11, says that the king of Assyria took Manasseh captive to Babylon – showing the interchangeability of the terms. Amos 5:27 says that Israel were to go into captivity “beyond Damascus”, i.e. in Assyria, but Stephen quotes this as “beyond Babylon” (Acts 7:43). Ezra 6:1 describes Darius the king of Babylon making a decree concerning the rebuilding of the temple. The Jews praised God for turning “the heart of the king of Assyria” (Ezra 6: 22), again showing that they are interchangeable terms. The prophecy of Isaiah 14, along with many others in Isaiah, fits in well to the context of the Assyrian invasion by Sennacherib in Hezekiah’s time, hence v. 25 describes the breaking of the Assyrian. Verse 13 is easier to understand if it is talking about the blasphemous Assyrians besieging Jerusalem, wanting to enter Jerusalem and capture the temple for their gods. Earlier the Assyrian king, Tilgath-Pilneser, had probably wanted to do the same (2 Chron. 28: 20-21). Isaiah 14:13: “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven…(symbolic of the temple and ark – 1 Kings 8: 30; 2 Chron. 30: 27; Ps. 20: 2 & 6; 11: 4; Heb. 7:26) I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation (mount Zion where the temple was) in the sides of the north” (Jerusalem – Ps. 48:1-2).

8. There’s a good reason why the King of Babylon is described as “the morning star”, or Venus. The Babylonians believed that their king was the child of their gods Bel and Ishtar, both of whom were associated with the planets- they thought that their King was the planet Venus.

9. The Lucifer-king was to “lie down” (Is. 14:8) in his destruction- and that Hebrew term occurs later in Isaiah with reference to the ‘laying down’ of Babylon’s King and army in the grave (Is. 43:17)

10. Note that “the stars of God” can refer to the leaders of Israel (Gen. 37:9; Joel 3:15; Dan. 8:10), above whom the King of Babylon wished to arise.

11. The passage about “Lucifer” is alluding to and deconstructing a contemporary myth, in a manner which is common to much Biblical literature. “An ancient myth told how Heylel, the morning star (Venus), tried to climb the walls of the northern city of the gods to make himself king of heaven, only to be driven from the sky by the rising sun. In Isaiah 14:12-20 this mythis given a historical application” (4). Isaiah is mocking the myth, and saying that the King of Babylon was acting like Heylel in the myth- but would be thrown down not by another planet, but by God Himself.

H.A. Kelly- one of the leading historians of religious ideas of recent times- observed from much research that “It was not until post-Biblical times that Lucifer was associated with Satan, or that Satan was thought to have been cast out of heaven before the creation of Adam and Eve, or that Satan had some connection with Adam and Eve” (5). The New Testament references to Jesus as the morning star, Venus, have been read by H.A. Kelly as a conscious allusion to the growing idea that Lucifer [‘light-bringer’, heosphoros in Greek, the dawn-bringer] / Venus, the morning star, was in fact something or someone evil (6). All the N.T. references to the morning star are positive, and all refer to Jesus (2 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 2:28; 22:16). It’s possible to read Jn. 1:8 in this context, too. Here John the Baptist is described as “bearing witness to the light”, which was language understandable with reference to Venus, the Morning Star which is seen in the Eeast just before the Sun rises in the West.

(1) Nick Lunn, Alpha And Omega (Sutton, UK: Willow, 1992) p. 254.

(2) W.H.C. Frend, The Donatist Church: A Movement Of Protest In Roman North Africa (Oxford: O.U.P., 1952).

(3) J.B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating To The Old Testament (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 3rd ed., 1969) p. 307.

(4) G.B. Caird, The Revelation Of St. John The Divine (London: Black, 1966) pp. 114,115.

(5) H.A. Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge: CUP, 2006) p. 1.

(6) H.A. Kelly, ibid pp. 164,165.

5-6 The Anointed Cherub

Ezekiel 28:13-15: “Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold; the workmanship of they tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. Thou are the anointed cherub that covereth and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee”.

Popular Interpretation

It is assumed that this refers to Satan once having been in Eden, totally perfect, but because of his pride, he had been cast out.


1. The words “devil” , “satan” and “angel” do not occur in this chapter, nor in the rest of Ezekiel. The context shows this is a prophecy about the King of Tyre; the preceding chapter 27 is an oracle against Tyre, and now chapter 28 speaks specifically about the King of Tyre. Ezekiel chapters 27 and 28 clearly hold together as a literary unit. The city of Tyre and the King of Tyre are described in similar terms, e.g. “perfect in beauty” (compare 27:3 and 28:12; 27:16,17 with 28:13; 27:33 with 28:16). The passage plainly speaks of the King of Tyre, not anything that happened at the beginning of the world.

2. It is commonly believed that Satan was thrown out of heaven into Eden, or that he gained access to Eden in order to tempt Adam and Eve, but this passage says that this person was in Eden before he sinned and was cast out when he sinned. The garden of Eden was on the earth, not in heaven (its boundaries are given in Gen. 2: 8-14), therefore the casting out was not out of heaven.

3. The person was to “die the deaths of the uncircumcised” (Ez. 28;10), but angels cannot die (Lk. 20:35-36). That a man is referred to is confirmed by v. 9: “thou shalt be a man…in the hand of him that slayeth thee”. Verse 2 defines him as the “prince of Tyrus”.

4. “Thou was perfect in thy ways,” is no proof that a super-human person is being spoken of, seeing that the word is applied to Noah, Abraham, Job and David (Gen. 6: 9; 17:1; Job 1:1; Ps. 18:23 & 25).

5. “Perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created,” refers to this man being “perfect” (upright) from the time of his spiritual birth – which is how the word “created” is used in Ezekiel 21:30 and Psalm 102:18 (cp. 2 Cor. 5:17).

6. “Thou hast been in Eden”, refers to where the king of Tyre was in place, not in time. Pharaoh and Assyria are similarly described as being a “cedar in Lebanon”, no “tree in the garden of God was like unto him in his beauty…all the trees of Eden envied him…yet shalt thou be brought down with the trees of Eden unto the nether parts of the earth: thou shalt lie in the midst of the uncircumcised” (Ez. 31:2,3,8,9,16,18). Thus “You have been in Eden” has similarities with the language used by Ezekiel about Egypt in Ez. 31. Egypt is described in language which recalls the trees in the garden of Eden, watered by many waters- and then cut down. In the same way as the Garden of Eden was ended, so would Egypt be.

The trees in Eden are not to be taken literally, they represent the nations whom Pharaoh and Assyria conquered, possibly referring to the fact that they were all within the old geographical boundaries of the garden of Eden. Pharaoh being the greatest of the trees in Eden and the most appealing maybe, suggests that he was taking to himself the place of the tree of knowledge, which was in the midst of Eden and probably the most attractive of them all, seeing that it fascinated Eve so much with its tempting fruit. Pharaoh was not literally that tree, but in the parable he was making himself like it. Similarly the king of Tyre is likened in this parable to the cherubim in Eden.

7. There are numerous parallels between Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. We have shown that Isaiah 14 was not concerning satan but about a human king. Ezekiel 28 and Ezekiel 31, are also about such human kings, each of whom went through the same pattern of being used by God for His purpose, getting proud in what He used them to achieve, blaspheming the God of Israel and therefore being punished.

8. As with Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28 is one of a series of prophecies about various nations, in this case about Tyre.

9. “Thou art wiser than Daniel” (v. 3) is no proof that a super-human being is referred to; this is an illustration of Luke 16: 8: “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light”.

10. “Thou art the anointed cherub…and I have set thee so” (Ez. 28:14) shows that God was in control of the cherub.

11. According to misreadings of Ez. 28:15 “Thou wast perfect in thy ways till iniquity was found in thee” and Jn. 8:44 “the devil was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there was no truth in him”, those who believe in a personal devil are faced with a contradiction- was the devil originally a sinner, or, was he once perfect but fell?

12. Eden was a geographical area on earth known to Ezekiel’s readers- this is how it is used elsewhere in Ezekiel (Ez. 27:23; 31:8,9; Is. 51:3; Gen. 13:10). ‘Eden’ was not understood as a historical reference to the garden of Eden in early Genesis, but rather to a known nation / region of Ezekiel’s time.

Suggested Explanations

1. We have seen that “the king of Tyrus” (v. 12) is the subject of this prophecy. Verses 4 and 5 describe him as getting rich by his trading in silver and gold, and getting proud because of this – much more applicable to a human king than to an angel. His sin is defined in Ez. 28:15,16: “The iniquity of your trading… by the multitude of your trading… you have sinned”. The sin in view wasn’t some Angelic rebellion against God.

2. Tyre occupied a privileged position in its relationship to Israel. David and Hiram had been close friends (2 Sam. 5:11; 1 Kings 5:1,6,7,10), and Hiram and Solomon had made a league in which Hiram supplied materials for the building of the temple (1 Kings 5:12,17,18). The language of Ezekiel 28:13-18 is taken from Israelitish worship and used symbolically for the relationship of Israel and Tyre (by implication suggesting the divine favour which rested upon Tyre because of its association with Israel). Consider the following:

a) ‘Every precious stone was thy covering’ (v.13); ‘thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire’ (v. 14). This is an allusion to the stones set in the breastplate of the high priest of Israel (Ex. 39:10-14).They were ‘stones of fire’ because of the way they would shine when exposed to the brilliance of the Shekinah glory of the sanctuary. They symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex. 39:14). The king of Tyre walked in the midst of these stones of fire when he moved among the children of Israel (as in the preparation of the materials for the temple). The position of Israel in the divine purpose provided a ‘covering’ for Tyre on the basis of the decree in Genesis 12: 3: “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee’. God blessed the house of Potiphar because of Joseph: ‘…the LORD blesses the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field’ (Gen. 39:5). Similarly, Tyre was ‘covered’ by Israel.

b) ‘Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth’ (v. 14). The cherubim were figures of beaten gold at either end of the mercy seat (Ex. 37: 7-9). Their wings overshadowed the mercy seat with which they were of one piece (Ex. 25:19-20). Although the translation of the Hebrew is uncertain (accepting the A.V.), the suggestion may be that Tyre as a great mercantile power was privileged to cast its ‘wings’ over Israel. It was the abuse of this exalted position that was a factor in the ruin of Tyre (vs. 4-5).

c) “Thou wast upon the holy mountain of God’ (v. 14). This holy mountain is Mt. Zion, the future site of God’s house of prayer for all people (Is. 2: 2-3; 56: 7). This ‘holy mountain of God’ is on the earth, not symbolically in heaven as J.W.’s assert (see Ez. 20:40).

d) ‘Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities’ (Ez. 28:18). This verse may imply that Tyre had set up forms of worship similar to that of Israel. Hiram was ‘ever a lover of David’ and rejoiced with Solomon in the building of the temple ( 1 Kings 5: 1-12). The king of Tyre would so doubt have learned about God’s kingdom in Israel from these two kings of Israel. Or, the verse may be interpreted this way: Tyre’s sanctuaries were in Israel when the divine presence and favour were manifest. But Tyre failed to appreciate its privileged association with Israel. When Nebuchadnezzar came down into Jerusalem (586 B.C.), the prince of Tyrus said: ‘Aha, the gate of the peoples is broken, it has swung open to me; I shall be replenished, now that she is laid waste’ (Ez. 26:2 R.S.V.). In so saying, Tyre had spoken her own nemesis according to the decree of Genesis 12: 3: ‘I will…curse him that curseth thee’. Tyre, in her self-centred, mercantile interests, had profaned the sanctuaries and was herself to be reduced to ashes.

e) ‘I will bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee’ (v. 18). Tyre could not with impunity violate her privileged relationship with Israel. When Nadab and Abihu treated the sacred as secular, ‘there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD’ (Lev. 10: 2). Similarly, Tyre had failed to make a difference between the holy and unholy. It was, therefore, to be reduced to ashes – devoured like Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19: 24-25).”

The above points are taken from Ron Abel, Wrested Scriptures, (South Croydon: C.A.T., 2005 ed.) pp. 171-173, Section 8.

3. The question still has to be answered as to why there are so many allusions to the events in Eden in this chapter. It appears that the prophecy of the fall of Tyre is being consciously framed to mirror the fall of man, e.g. v. 2: “thou art a man”; “man” is Adam in Hebrew, as if God is saying to the prince of Tyre, “You are like Adam in this parable”. Verse 17 tells how he will be brought to the ground – as Adam had to return to the dust. The passage is often skim read, leading to the assumption that the King of Tyre is being likened to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, or to some Satan figure who fell from Heaven at that time. But careful reading shows that the King of Tyre is being likened to Adam in Eden, not to the serpent. Careful attention to the Hebrew text supports this further. “Thou art the anointed cherub… and I have set thee so” (Ez. 28:14) would be better rendered: “I had provided you with a guardian cherub”, or “I put a terrifying angel there to guard you” (G.N.B.); “I will destroy thee, O covering cherub” (Ez. 28:16) is better “The guardian cherub banished [or, destroyed] you”, or “the angel who guarded you drove you away” (G.N.B.)- with reference to the cherubim keeping Adam from re-entering Eden. These translations are justified at length in a fascinating article at .

4. Another approach is suggested by recent archaeological discoveries in Tyre. A large cherub-sphinx with a king’s head and animal’s body set on a base of sculptured mountains was discovered, evidently a deification of a king of Tyre. With Hiram’s knowledge of the true God, it seems that subsequent Kings of Tyre came to put themselves in the position of God, seated between the cherubim on Mount Zion, in the same way as the king of Assyria effectively aspired to the same thing – Phoenician inscriptions have been uncovered calling the king of Tyre “Lord of the Heavens”. Even more amazingly, the jewels described in v. 13 were all found embedded in this sphinx-cherubim. The three jewels of the breastplate missing from the list in v. 13 were also missing from the sphinx. Inscriptions also describe Tyre as the “garden of God”, and reliefs of cherubim guarding Tyre as they did Eden have been found. Thus the king of Tyre had set up a blasphemous system of worship copying that of the temple and of Eden, with himself as God in the midst of it. Harry Whittaker makes a distinction between “the prince of Tyre” (Ez. 28:2) and “the king of Tyre” (Ez. 28:12). which he sees as a reference to the Tyrian god Melkart (“King of the city”). He suggests that Tyre had installed a system of Yahweh worship similar to that which was in Jerusalem (perhaps a result of Hiram’s relationship with Solomon and assistance in building Yahweh’s temple)- but this had become mixed with the worship of Melkart (1). “Thou sealest up the sum” (v. 12). The Hebrew for “sum” can also mean “pattern, imitation” – as if God is saying that He is aware that this replica of His system of worship has been pushed by the king of Tyre as far as it can go – “thou sealest up the sum” (imitation of God). No wonder a prophecy like Ezekiel 28 was necessary to expose his sin!

According to the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary: “This feeling of superhuman elevation in the king of Tyre was fostered by the fact that the island on which Tyre stood was called “the holy island” [Sanconiathon], being sacred to Hercules and Melkart, so much so that the colonies looked up to Tyre as the mother city of their religion”. “The city was thought of as rising from the waters like the rock-throne of God” (2). This would explain why the King of Tyre is criticized for saying “I am a God, I sit in the seat of God” (Ez. 28:2). It would also explain all the allusions to Israelite worship- he was setting himself up as a rival to Zion, dressing himself in clothing featuring all the jewels in the High Priestly breastplate (Ex. 28:15-20); the word used for his “workmanship” with those jewels in Ez. 28:13 is used in Ex. 31:3,5; 35:31 of the workmanship of the tabernacle and associated garments. Note how Ez. 27:22 says that Tyre traded in “all precious stones”. The King of Tyre claimed to be “perfect in beauty” (Ez. 28:12)- just as Zion was described earlier in Ezekiel in the same terms (Ez. 16:14).

5. In section 1-1-1 and Digression 3, we noted that the Genesis record alludes to various incorrect pagan myths which Israel had encountered, and seeks to deconstruct them and refocus their terms upon the real issues- sin and sinful people. Ez. 28:11-19 is perhaps another example. Here, the king of Tyre is likened to a cherub dwelling in Eden, the garden of God. However, the Genesis record stresses that the cherubim dwelt not in the garden, but east of it. It would therefore seem that Ez. 28:11-19 is alluding to some pagan story of the garden of Eden, and re-focussing the myth upon a real, known human being on earth- i.e. the king of Tyre. Other examples of this kind of re-focussing of pagan myths onto the real enemies- sinners and sinful nations- are to be found in section 1-1-1. Cassuto points out that the Ezekiel reference to the cherub ‘walking in the midst of the stones of fire’ is an allusion to Ugaritic poetry which speaks of ‘stones of fire’. Ezekiel does the same thing in Ez. 31:8,9, where he references pagan ideas about Eden, the cherubim etc., and re-focuses them upon Pharaoh, king of Egypt. It could even be argued that Ezekiel’s detailed visions of the cherubim in Ez. 1 and 10 are a deconstruction of Babylonian and underlying Canaanite myths about the cherubim- showing who the cherubim really are.


(1) H.A. Whittaker, The Very Devil (Wigan: Biblia, 1991) p. 33.

(2) Ralph Woodrow, Was Satan Once An Angel In Heaven? (Riverside, CA: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1968) p. 7. Woodrow was one of the few, if not the only, popular American Evangelical preacher of the 20th century who spoke out against the popular view of Satan.

5-7 Satan In Zechariah 3

This passage is commented upon in section 5-30 . Section 5-4-2 considers it too in terms of its connection with the Satan in the Heavenly court which we meet in Job 1. According to Dt. 32:8,9 LXX, humanity has been divided up “according to the number of the angels of God”; each nation has its Angelic representative in Heaven. These Angels are spoken of as being ‘punished’ in the sense that their charges on earth are punished. Note the parallelism in Is. 24:21,22:

“Yahweh will punish

The host of heaven in heaven

And on earth the kings of the earth”.

This doesn’t mean that the representative Angels are themselves sinners; but they are identified in the court of Heaven with those on earth whom they represent.

Zechariah 3 was written in the context of the Jews in Babylon. It has been shown that the Babylonians believed that each person has a god who accuses them (1). As elsewhere, Zechariah and the prophets allude to contemporary beliefs and deconstruct them, i.e. they show the truth about these matters as Yahweh wished His people to understand them, just as Moses alluded to creation myths in order to show what was false and to explain the truth about some of the matters they touched upon. So here Zechariah is making the point that the truth is that in the court of Heaven, Angels represent human beings and organizations and their positions and accusations against God’s people; and it is God who judges those accusations, and sends forth His Angels to implement His subsequent judgment of the cases upon earth. Paul may have this in mind when he exults that if God and Christ are on our side, we now have no accusers- for they are the only ones who can bring valid accusation against us. And even if we have accusers, the fact that they are our justifiers means that effectively, no such accusation is of any power (Rom. 8:33,34).


(1) Rivkah Scharf Kluger, Satan In The Old Testament (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1967), pp. 134,135.

5-8 The Temptation Of Jesus

Matthew 4: 1-11: “Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterwards an hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. “Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at anytime thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him”.

Popular Interpretation

This passage is read as meaning that a being called the “devil” tempted Jesus to sin by suggesting certain things to Him and leading Him into tempting situations.


1. Jesus “was in all points tempted, like as we are” (Heb. 4: 15), and: “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (James 1:14). We are tempted by the “devil” of our own lusts or evil desires, and so was Jesus. We are not tempted by an evil being suddenly standing next to us and prompting us to sin – sin and temptation come “from within, out of the heart of man” (Mk. 7: 21). They “proceed” out of the heart, as if to stress that the heart really is their source. Jesus was tempted just as we are (Heb. 4:15,16), and in this sense He becomes for us a legitimate example. Paul borrows the language of “the tempter” coming to Jesus and applies it to “the tempter” coming to Christians (1 Thess. 3:5). And we can note that Matthew alone records how Jesus fasted during the temptation period- and it is Matthew alone who records instruction to us about fasting (Mt. 16:16-8 cp. 9:14,15). Seeing we’re not physically encountered by a literal personal satan in our times of testing, it surely follows that neither was Jesus our example.

2. The temptations are hard to take literally:-

– Matthew 4: 8 implies that Jesus was led up into a high mountain to see all the kingdoms of the world in their future glory, “In a moment of time”. There is no mountain high enough to see all the world. And why would the height of the mountain enable Jesus to see what the world would be like in the future? The earth, being a sphere, there is no point on its surface from which one can see all the parts of the world at one time.

– A comparison of Matthew 4 and Luke 4 shows that the temptations are described in a different order. Mark 11:13 says that Jesus was “in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan”, whilst Matthew 4 : 2-3 says that “when he had fasted forty days…the tempter (Satan) came to Him…”. Because Scripture cannot contradict itself, we can conclude that these same temptations kept repeating themselves. The temptation to turn stones into bread is an obvious example. This would fit nicely if these temptations occurred within the mind of Jesus. Being of our nature, the lack of food would have affected him mentally as well as physically, and thus his mind would have easily begun to imagine things. Just going a few days without food can lead to delirium for some (cp. 1 Sam. 30:12 ). The similarity between rolls of bread and stones is mentioned by Jesus in Mt. 7: 9, and doubtless those images often merged in his tortured mind – although always to be brought into swift control by his recollection of the Word

– Jesus probably told the Gospel writers the record of His temptations, and to bring home in words the intensity of what He underwent, He could have used the figurative approach seen in Matthew 4 and Luke 4.

– It seems unlikely that several times the devil led Jesus through the wilderness and streets of Jerusalem and then scaled a pinnacle of the temple together, all in view of the inquisitive Jews. Josephus makes no record of anything like this happening – presumably it would have caused a major stir. Similarly, if these temptations occurred several times within the forty days as well as at the end of that period (which they did at least twice, seeing that Matthew and Luke have them in different order), how would Jesus have had time to walk (n.b. the devil “led” Jesus there) to the nearest high mountain (which could have been Hermon in the far north of Israel), climb to the top and back down again, return to the wilderness and then repeat the exercise? His temptations all occurred in the wilderness – He was there for forty days, tempted all the time by the devil (he only departed at the end – Matt. 4:11). If Jesus was tempted by the devil each day, and the temptations occurred only in the wilderness, then it follows that Jesus could not have left the wilderness to go to Jerusalem or travel to a high mountain. These things therefore could not have literally happened.

– If the devil is a physical person who has no respect for God’s Word and is interested in making people sin, then why would Jesus quote Scripture to overcome him? According to the popular view, this would not send the devil away. Notice that Jesus quoted a Bible passage each time. If the devil was the evil desires within Jesus’ heart, then it is understandable that by His having the Word in His heart and reminding Himself of it, He could overcome those bad desires. Psalm 119:11 is so relevant that perhaps it is specifically prophesying Christ’s experience in the wilderness: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee”.

– That the temptations were internal to the mind of Jesus is suggested by the way that in Matthew’s record, there is a progression from the desert, to the temple pinnacle, to a high mountain- as if in some sort of ascent toward Heaven. It’s even possible that Paul has this in mind when he comments that Jesus did not consider rising up to equality with God a thing to be grasped at, He dismissed that temptation, and instead He progressively lowered Himself, even to the death of the cross (Phil. 2:6-8).

We can of course understand the ‘Satan’ figure to be a literal person who as it were ministered the suggestions / temptations / tests to the Lord Jesus. This would be in keeping with how in Old Testament times God had raised up various adversaries through whom to test His children. But those individuals were very much under God’s control and as it were on His side. John Thomas, who shared our view of Satan completely, put it like this: “If Deity became Satan to Israel, and to Job, it is not to be denied that an angel may have assumed the same attitude in the case of Jesus Christ” (1).

3. The devil left him “for a season” to return later. The temptations from ‘the devil’ returned when the Jewish people, the Pharisees and Herod demanded of Jesus that He pull off a miracle (Lk.23:6-9; Mk. 6:1-6; 8:11-13; 15:31; Mt. 12:38-42). This was just the temptation He had faced and overcome in Mt. 4:5-7. Yet there is no record of a creature literally approaching the Lord later in His ministry. And yet the essence of the three temptations did indeed return to Him later, and the three of them found their quintessence in the experiences of the cross. Thus “cast thyself down” was matched by the Jews [again associating things Jewish with the devil] tempting Jesus to come down from the cross. There is a strong association between the ‘satan’ and the Jewish system. The whole structure of the record would have sounded to first century ears like a debate between the Jewish rabbis and their disciple: “Matthew’s and Luke’s stories are in the form of a three-part conversation not unlike the debates of the scribes which utilize proof-texts from Scripture” (2). The triple temptations are to be compared with the Lord’s triple temptation in Gethsemane, and His three trials for His life (before the Sanhedrin, Herod and Pilate). In this sense the satan ‘returned’ to Him. This is especially clear in Mark’s Gospel. The Jews- the Jewish Satan as it were, the adversary to the Lord’s cause- are recorded as putting Him to the test, just as He was tested in the desert (Mk. 8:11-13; 10:2; 12:13-17).

We note that the Gospels go on to call Peter “satan” and Judas “a devil”- perhaps because both of them offered the Lord Jesus the same temptations to immediate glory without the cross which “satan” did in the wilderness. They would therefore have been occasions of where Satan ‘returned’ to the Lord as predicted at the close of the account of the wilderness temptations. A good case can be made for Judas’ betrayal of the Lord being rooted in his desire for an immediate Messianic Kingdom, and his bitter disappointment and anger when he finally understood that the Lord’s Kingdom was not to come about in that way. It’s been suggested that ‘Iscariot’ is related to the Latin sicarius, an assassin, which would suggest that Judas [like Peter] was a zealot willing to use force and violence to bring about the Kingdom of Jesus (3).

John’s Gospel omits many of the incidents and teaching accounts of the synoptics, but repeats their essence in a different way (4). It seems John’s equivalent of the temptation narratives is his account in Jn. 6:1-14 of the Jews tempting Jesus to do a miraculous sign to prove Himself Messiah, and to provide manna in the wilderness. In this case, John is casting the Jews and their thinking in the role of the “satan” of the wilderness temptations. The following parallels between the wilderness temptations and the Lord’s experience as recorded in Jn. 6 indicate how the ‘devil’ of temptation returned to the Lord Jesus- and note in passing how the equivalent of ‘satan’ is the Jews:


The wilderness temptations

The Jewish crowd wanted to make him king (Jn. 6:15)

Satan offers him the kingship of the [Jewish?] world

The Jews ask for miraculous bread (Jn. 6:31)

Satan invites him to make miraculous bread

The [Jewish] disciples want Jesus to go to Jerusalem to show His power (Jn. 7:3)

Satan takes Jesus to Jerusalem and tempts Him to show His power.

The Synoptics speak of how satan ‘comes to’ and tempts and challenges the Lord Jesus to claim earthly political power, which ‘satan’ can give him (Mt. 4:8,9). But John describes this in terms of “the people” coming to Him and trying to make Him King- which temptation He refused (Jn. 6:15). Likewise it was ‘the devil’ in the wilderness who tempted Jesus to make the stones into bread. But in Jn. 6:30,31, it is the Jewish people who offer Him the same temptation. In the wilderness, the Lord responded that man lives by the bread which comes from the mouth of God. In Jn. 6:32, He responds likewise by speaking about “the true bread from heaven”. The temptation from ‘the devil’ to publically display His Divine powers in front of Israel in the Jerusalem temple (Mt. 4:5,6; Lk. 4:9-12) is repeated by John in terms of the Lord’s brothers tempting Him to go up to the same temple and openly validate Himself “to the world” (Jn. 7:1-5).

In any case, the temptation to produce manna in the wilderness was a temptation to play the role of Messiah as the Jews would have expected it to be played- and this was exactly the temptation that Jesus overcame. Likewise, the temptation to appear on the pinnacle of the temple and jump down to Israel from there was a temptation to again be the Messiah Israel wanted, rather than the One God wanted; for according to the rabbinic Pesiqta Rabbati 36, “When the King, the Messiah, reveals himself, he will come and stand on the roof of the temple”. These temptations repeated themselves, as “the devil departed for a season” to return later- e.g. in the form of the relatives of Jesus tempting Him to go up to Jerusalem and to some dramatic works to prove His identity. It was the Jews who repeatedly demanded from Jesus a dramatic “sign from Heaven” (Mt. 16:1; 22:18,35; Mk. 8:11; 10:2; 12:15; Lk. 11:16)- “tempting him” to give one. They are the ones continuing the tempting of Jesus which we first encounter in the record of His wilderness temptations. Hence we can connect the wilderness “satan” with the Jews / Jewish thinking and the temptation to be as they wanted rather than as God intended.

4. In Lk. 11:21,22, the Lord Jesus speaks of how He has already overcome ‘Satan’ and is now sharing Satan’s goods with His disciples. Now this may be prophetic of the Lord’s faith in victory over ‘satan’ in the cross. But it could also be a reference back to His successful struggle with ‘satan’ in the wilderness. If this is the case, then He is reflecting how He understood ‘satan’ not as a literal strong man who guards his house, for Jesus didn’t fight with such a person in the wilderness, but rather to the symbolic power of sin with which He had fought and overcome (5).

5. There is an evident similarity between the temptations / testing of Jesus and the temptations / testing of Israel, also in the wilderness. That’s why each time, the Lord replies to the temptation with a quotation from Deuteronomy relevant to the wilderness temptations of Israel. The point is that it was God who tested Israel. The Greek words peirazo and peirasmos which are translated “tempt” in the wilderness temptation record are used in the Greek Old Testament in connection with God testing His people (Gen. 22:1; Ex. 15:25; 17:7; Num. 14:22; Dt. 4:34; 8:2; 9:22; 33:8; Ps. 95:8). Quite simply, whoever or whatever “the devil” was in the Lord’s temptations, it was under the control of God. We’ve earlier pointed out how God tested Israel in 2 Sam. 24:1, but the parallel 1 Chron. 21:1 says that “satan” did this.

6. The Lord Jesus overcame the temptations by quoting Scripture. This is an understandable way to overcome temptation that goes on within the human mind; but there is no logical nor Biblical reason why an evil being such as a personal satan would be somehow scared off by quoting Scripture. If tempted or threatened by an evil person, let alone a personal “Satan”, it would be quite useless to merely quote Bible verses to the person so that they leave us. But once the real ‘satan’ is understood to be the adversary of our own internal temptations and thoughts, all becomes clearer.

7. The idea of the Lord being led by the spirit and then seeing things like Him standing on a high mountain, or perched on a temple pinnacle, all have some similarities with the experience of Ezekiel. He was likewise ‘led of the spirit’ of God to the captives by the river Chebar; he was ‘in spirit’ transported there, but I don’t think that means he literally went there (Ez. 1:4-28; 3:11-15; 11:1,24,25). It seems the same happened with the Lord Jesus, the “son of man” whom Ezekiel typified in so many ways.

8. The account of the temptations begins and ends with reference to “the spirit”. The Lord Jesus was led by God’s spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, and then “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” (Lk. 4:1,14). The nature of the record hardly suggests that ‘Satan’ was in radical, independent opposition to the spirit of God; even if we take ‘Satan’ as a personal being in the narrative, clearly there was a co-operation between him and God in order to test God’s Son (cp. Paul’s delivering of people unto Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme, 1 Cor. 5:5). And that runs counter to the classical view of Satan as a rebellious being locked in combat with God, ever seeking to oppose Him.

Suggested Explanations

1. When Jesus was baptized in Jordan by John, He received the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:16). As soon as He came out of the water, He was driven into the wilderness to be tempted. Knowing that He had the power of the spirit to turn stones into bread, jump off buildings unharmed etc., these temptations must have raged within His mind. If a person was suggesting these things to Jesus and Jesus knew that person to be sinful, then the temptations were a lot less subtle than if they came from within Jesus’ own mind.

2. The temptation to take the kingdoms to Himself would have been far more powerful if it came from within Christ. Jesus’ mind would have been full of Scripture, and in His afflicted state of mind, caused by His fasting, it would be tempting to misinterpret passages to enable Him to use them to justify taking the easy way out of the situation He was in.

Standing on a high mountain recalls Ezekiel being shown what the Kingdom would be like from a high mountain (Ez. 40:2), and John, seeing “the holy Jerusalem” from “a great and high mountain” (Rev. 21:10). Jesus saw the world’s kingdoms as they would be in the future (Lk. 4: 5), i.e. in the Kingdom, when “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (Rev. 11:15). Maybe He would have thought of Moses at the end of 40 years’ wilderness wandering (cp. His forty days) looking out at the Promised Land (the Kingdom) from Mount Nebo. It is emphasized in Daniel (Dan. 4:17, 25, 32; 5:21) that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will”; Jesus would have known that only God, not anyone else, could give Him the kingdom. Therefore it would not have been much of a temptation if an evil monster claimed to be able to give Jesus the kingdom, when He knew only God had the power. However, Jesus knew that it was His (the Father’s) good pleasure to give Jesus the kingdom, and it must have been suggested by the “devil” within Jesus that He could take that kingdom immediately. After all, He could have reasoned, God has delegated all authority to me in prospect (Jn. 5:26-27), to the extent that He had power to both give His life and take it again (Jn. 10:18), although ultimately all power was given unto Him only after His death and resurrection (Matt. 28:18). Jer. 27:5-8 and Jer. 34:5-8 in the LXX speak of how God has made the earth and will give it (Gk. doso) to whomever He wishes; and these are the very words of the ‘satan’ in Luke’s record: “I will give (doso) it to you… I give it to whomever I wish”. One could say that this is a way of explaining how the Lord Jesus was tempted to ‘play God’ and seek equality with God- which temptation He refused (as Paul points out in Phil. 2).

3. With His familiarity with Scripture, Christ would have seen the similarities between Himself and Elijah, whose morale collapsed after 40 days in the wilderness (1 Kings 19: 8) and Moses, who forfeited his immediate inheritance of the land at the end of 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus at the end of 40 days, was in a similar position to them – faced with a real possibility of failure. Moses and Elijah failed because of human weakness – not because of a person called “the devil”. It was this same human weakness, the “satan’ , or adversary, that was tempting Jesus.

4. “And the devil said unto Him, If thou be the Son of God…” (Lk. 4: 3). It must have been a constant temptation within the mind of Christ to question whether He really was the Son of God, seeing that everyone else thought He was the son of Joseph (Lk. 3:23; Jn. 6:42) or illegitimate (so Jn. 9:29 implies), and that the official temple records described him as the son of Joseph (Matt. 1:1,16; Lk. 3:23, where “supposed” means ‘reckoned by law’). He was the only human being not to have a human father. Philippians 2: 8 implies that Jesus came to appreciate that He really was a man like us, inferring it was tempting for Him to disbelieve He was the Son of God, or to misunderstand His own nature.

5. The temptations were controlled by God for Christ’s spiritual education. The passages quoted by Jesus to strengthen Himself against His desires (“devil”) are all from the same part of Deuteronomy, regarding Israel’s experience in the wilderness. Jesus clearly saw a parallel between His experiences and theirs:-

Deuteronomy 8:2 “The Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments (word), or no.”

Matthew 4 / Luke 4 “Jesus led up of the spirit” “forty days” “in the wilderness”. Jesus was proved by the temptations. Jesus overcame by quoting the Scriptures that were in His heart (Ps. 119:11), thus showing it was the Scriptures that were in His heart.

Deuteronomy 8:3. “And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna… that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word…of the Lord…”

He was afterward an hungered”. In John 6 manna is interpreted by Jesus as representing the Word of God, which Jesus lived by in the wilderness. Jesus learnt that spiritually He lived by the Word of God. “He answered…it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word …of God”.,

Deuteronomy 8:5 “Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee”

Jesus no doubt reflected on His experiences. God chastened His Son, Jesus- 2 Sam. 7:12; Ps. 89: 32.

Thus Jesus showed us how to read and study the Word – He thought Himself into the position of Israel in the wilderness, and therefore took the lessons that can be learnt from their experiences to Himself in His wilderness trials. The description of the Lord Jesus as being in the wilderness with beasts and Angels (Mk. 1:13) is another connection with Israel’s experience in the wilderness- they were plagued there by “wild beasts” because of their disobedience (Dt. 32:19-24 and context).


(1) John Thomas, Eureka: An Exposition Of The Apocalypse (West Beach, Australia: Logos Publications, 1985 ed.), Vol. 3 p. 65.

(2) G.H. Twelftree, ‘Temptation Of Jesus’, in I.H.Marshall, ed., Dictionary Of Jesus And The Gospels (Leicester: IVP, 1992) p. 822. Ernst Lohmeyer likewise noted that the account of the wilderness temptations reads very much as a disputation between two Rabbis- as if Jesus was arguing with a Jewish mind about the interpretation of Scripture. See Ernst Lohmeyer, The Lord’s Prayer (London: Collins, 1965) p. 224. Henry Kelly sees the record as “a typical rabbinical “show-debate”. Such debates were a form of midrash (meditation on Scripture) that displayed an authoritative figure responding to a series of challenges by citing the correct passage from Scripture”- Satan: A Biography (Cambridge: C.U.P., 2006) p. 87. There’s a passage in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 89b) where ‘Satan’ three times tempts Abraham, and is rebuffed by Abraham’s quoting of Scripture. There’s another example in the Deuteronomy Rabbah 11.5 where Moses likewise is portrayed as having a triple dialogue with an Angel about agreeing to his death. The more researchers explore the Jewish literature contemporary with the Gospels, the more it becomes apparent that the style of the Gospel records is similar to that found in the contemporary literature- and such a show trial was very much Jewish rabbinic style. “The Gospel tradition presents much of Jesus’ teaching in literary forms akin to those characteristic of rabbinic literature. Such “forms” include miracle stories, parables, disputations, and “cases”, examples drawn from real life situations”- M. Wilcox, ‘Semitic Influence On The New Testament’, in C.A. Evans and S.E. Porter, eds., Dictionary Of New Testament Background (Leicester: IVP, 2000) p. 1094.

(3) See Oscar Cullmann, The State In The New Testament (New York: Scribners’, 1956) p. 15.


The Synoptic Gospels

John’s Gospel

Mt. 16:19 the keys of the Gospel of the Kingdom

Jn. 20:21,23

the more literal accounts of the birth of Jesus

Jn. 1: 1-14

The great preaching commission

Jn. 14:12; 17:18; 20:21; Jn. 15:8,16; Jn. 17:23 RV

The Synoptics all include the Lord’s Mount Olivet prophecy as a lead-in to the record of the breaking of bread and crucifixion

In John, the record of this prophecy is omitted and replaced by the account of the Lord’s discourse in the upper room. “The day of the son of man” in John becomes “the hour [of the cross]… that the son of man should be glorified” (Jn. 12:23). “Coming”, “that day”, “convict / judge the world” are all phrases picked up by John and applied to our experience of the Lord right now. In our context of judgment now, we have to appreciate that the reality of the future judgment of course holds true; but the essence of it is going on now.

The three synoptic gospels all include Peter’s ‘confession’, shortly before Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain.

In John’s gospel the account of the transfiguration is lacking. Are we to assume that Thomas’ confession in chapter 20 is supposed to take its place?

The need for water baptism

The account of the breaking of bread

The many quotations from the Old Testament, shown to be fulfilled in the Lord Jesus.

The synoptics each give some account of the literal origin of Jesus through giving genealogies or some reference to them.

Jn. 3:3-5

John’s version is in John 6:48-58. He stresses that one must absorb Christ into themselves in order to really have the eternal life which the bread and blood symbolize. It seems John puts it this way in order to counter the tendency to think that merely by partaking in the ritual of breaking bread, believers are thereby guaranteed eternal life.

John expresses this in more abstract language: “The word was made flesh” (Jn. 1:14).

John’s Gospel speaks of Jesus as if He somehow existed in the plan of God from the beginning, but “became flesh” when He was born of Mary.

(5) This is actually the view of Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology (New York: Scribners, 1971) p. 73.

5-8-1 Jesus In The Wilderness:

A Study In The Language And Nature Of Temptation

It may well be argued that the language of the wilderness temptations implies there was physical movement going on, e.g. the tempter came to Jesus and led Him away. We now consider how such language is relevant to our evil desires inside our mind.

And when the tempter came to Him…”

The records of the temptations of our Lord seem to indicate that the ‘devil’ which tempted Him was His internal nature rather than an external tempter. However, some have found problems with this view – not least because the tempter is described as “coming to” Jesus and leading Him. The purpose of this study is to show that temptation and desire are often described in terms of physical movement, thus enabling us to analyze them in a way which is easier to visualize than to describe them in purely abstract terms.

We know that our Lord “was tempted in every point like as we are” (Heb. 4:15); and “every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lusts (desires) and enticed” (James 1:14). For Jesus to be tempted like us, He had to go through the same process of temptation as we do. So to some extent He also was “drawn away” by the evil desires – the ‘devil’ – which He had within Him. This would explain why the devil is described as taking Jesus into Jerusalem and into a mountain; this “taking” is the same as being “drawn away” in James 1. This association of our evil desires with the idea of physical movement is picked up frequently in the New Testament. “Lead us not into temptation” (Mt. 6:13) is a case in point. We are led by our evil desires, as Jesus was to a small extent in the wilderness; and yet God is expressed here as ultimately in control of these things. He is greater than our evil desires, and is able to stop them leading us, to “keep us from falling” (note the connection of temptation and physical movement again). The world generally makes no resistance to being led by the devil – thus “silly women” are “led captive…led away with divers lusts…led away with the error of the wicked” (2 Tim. 3: 6; 2 Pet. 3:17). Jesus was not led by the devil – His lusts which He shared with us – as much as these people. But nevertheless, the same basic idea of sin leading us in order to tempt us was true of Him. The Greek word translated “taketh” in Matthew 4 in relation to Jesus being taken by the devil is used both figuratively and literally (Strong). The following examples show its figurative use:

..customs they have received to hold” (Mk. 7:4)

His own received Him not” (Jn. 1:11)

Ye have received Christ” (Col. 2:6)

Similarly, the Devil ‘coming’ to Jesus can also be subjective; again, Strong says the Greek word for ‘coming’ can be used either figuratively or literally . It is translated ‘consent’ in 1 Timothy 6: 3 – some “consent” not to wholesome words”. Hebrews 12:1 describes “the sin that doth so easily beset us”, as if sin – the devil – comes up to us and besets us. The language of Revelation 20 regarding the devil and satan being loosed and going out throughout the world now falls into place, once it is appreciated that the diabolism – our evil desires – are likened to coming to people. We often stress how Jesus answered each temptation by quoting Scripture, as if the whole experience was a living demonstration of Psalm 119:11: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee”. Although Jesus had the word in His heart, He had our lusts, and for a brief moment it was possible that “ the lusts of other things entering in” (Mk. 4:19 ) could try to choke that word, even in His heart. For them to try to enter in, they must come to us; and thus the devil – those lusts – came to Jesus. The parable of the sower equates all the various reasons for failure to produce fruit, seeing they all have the same effect. Satan coming to take away the word from the new convert is parallel, therefore, to “the lusts of other things entering in (choking) the word” (Mk. 4: 15 & 19). These lusts originate from our nature – their entering in to the heart from our nature is the same as ‘Satan coming’.

There are other examples of our internal lust being described as physically moving in to us (1):

– Nathan’s parable about David’s sin with Bathsheba blamed the act on a traveller coming to David asking to be satisfied. The traveller of the parable represented David’s lusts which led to adultery and murder (2 Sam.12: 4), although both these come “from within, out of the heart of man” (Mk. 7:20-23).

– “He that is begotten of God (by the word – 1 Pet. 1:23) keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not” – the Word in our hearts stops the advances of our internal devil from touching us.

It seems to me that Luke 4:13, when properly translated, provides the greatest support for the ‘internal tempter’ idea. The Devil “departed from Him”. The Greek word also means ‘to restrain’ – so the phrase seems to mean that the devil restrained himself from Jesus, it was something the devil did to himself; and thus by implication Jesus also restrained Himself from the Devil. In any case, the devil departing for a season from Jesus shows His sharing of the experience of every Christian – that sometimes the Devil seems stronger than others, some days or weeks can slip by in which we appear to be on top of our desires, whilst in others, for all our trying harder, the Devil seems so much stronger. The main conclusion from this is that Jesus was far nearer failure than we perhaps realize. The Diaglott translates James 1: 14 “each one is tempted by his own inordinate desire, being drawn out and entrapped”. This is the language of hunting animals – drawing them out and trapping them. 1 Timothy 3: 7 talks of the “snare of the devil” – our inordinate desires. Thus for Jesus to be tempted He had to be drawn out of the tremendous shell of His own spirituality, like a mouse is attracted out of a hole towards cheese set in a trap; and then having the self control and self possession to withdraw back again.


(1) This and other observations in this section are confirmed in Wayne E. Oates, Temptation: A Biblical and Psychological Approach (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991).

5-8-2 The Wilderness Temptations: A Window Into The Mind Of Jesus

We have shown that our Lord’s experiences were similar to those of Israel in the wilderness. The following are additional comments which give greater insight into His temptations:

– The Lord realized He was in a similar position to Israel in another wilderness, and therefore personalized Scripture in Deuteronomy concerning their experience there to apply to Himself.

– The personification of the sinful temptations in the Lord’s heart as a person called ‘the devil’ shows how clearly His mind was divided between flesh and spirit- without the hazy overlap so characteristic of our semi-spirituality. It was probably with this in mind that He deftly broke the bread representing his body into two at the Last Supper- to show that clear division within Himself (Mt. 26:26). A psychotherapist friend of mine, Dr. Artur Dombrovsky, suggested to me in discussing the wilderness temptations that the more in touch with themselves a person is, the more clearly they will be able to see themselves from outside themselves; the greater the distance they are able to place between them and the ‘self’ whom they analyze and dialogue with in self-examination. Much of our self-talk is vague; that of the Lord Jesus was specific and focused. He was the man ultimately in touch with Himself.

– His quotation of Dt. 6:13 “You shalt fear the Lord your God (alone)” was probably made with Dt. 6:14 in mind “You shall not go after other gods”. Perhaps He interpreted the pagan idols as the evil thoughts of His heart. Earlier Dt. 6:7,8 had warned that not repeating the Law would result in idol worship- and Christ saw that His neglect of the Father’s word would result in His serving His evil desires. Thus the purpose of the temptations was to prove whether Christ would really keep and apply the word in His heart (Dt. 8:2), as it was for Israel in their wilderness.

– God alone has the power to give the Kingdom (Dan. 4:32). That Jesus was tempted to take if for Himself (Mt. 4:9) indicates He was tempted to make Himself equal to God. Phil. 2:6 comments on this, that although He had the same perfect mind as God, He did not consider equality with God a thing to be even considered. This shows (again) how conscious Christ was of His sinless mind, and how this tempted Him to proudly assume equality with God. This was probably in the back of His consciousness as He argued in Jn. 10:34-36 that men in the Old Testament had been called God, but He was not then taking that title to Himself as He could have done, but only calling Himself the Son of God. His appreciation of the many passages which called Him Yahweh would have tempted Him to use the name in His own right because of His ultimate manifestation of God. Christ reflected that to whomsoever He wanted He could give the Kingdom (Lk. 4:6)- and He thought of giving it to Himself. Note how later He promised to give the cities of the Kingdom to us (Mt. 19:28; Lk. 19:17).

– His ‘adversary’, His own mind, quoted Ps. 91:11,12 to Himself (Mt. 4:6) :”He shall give His Angels charge over you”. This Psalm has primary reference to Joshua being protected by the Angel during the wilderness wanderings when the apostate Israelites were consumed by the destroyer Angel. The specific reason for this protection is given in Ps. 91:1; because he had remained in the tabernacle, no doubt from the motive of wanting to hear as much as possible of God’s word spoken by the Angel to his master Moses (Ex. 33:11). Our Lord was in a similar position- dedicated to the word of God, the rest of Israel apostate. It would have been tempting to abuse the subsequent Angelic power which His spirituality had made available to Him.

– There is the implication that it took the Lord 40 days to overcome the Devil, at which point the Devil departed. This is more easily understandable in terms of an internal battle, than a literal struggle against a supernatural being. And the fact it took 40 days shows how hard was the struggle for the Lord.

– The Lord standing on a high mountain beholding the coming Kingdom of God (1) points forward to an identical scene in Rev. 21:10. There are other connections with Revelation- ” The kingdoms of the world” = Rev. 11:15; v.9,10= Rev. 22:8,9; v.5= Rev. 21:2. It is almost as if the Lord Jesus in giving Revelation was looking back to His wilderness trials, rejoicing that what He had been tempted to have then illegitimately, was now His and ours legitimately. The wilderness temptation was to take the Kingdom and rule it for Himself rather than for God; i.e. not to manifest God, even if externally there would not be any evident difference between whether He was manifesting God in an acceptable spirit or not. For these temptations to be real, it must have been possible that God would have allowed Christ to take the Kingdom; as He would have allowed the Lord to use the Angels to rescue Him from his ordeal in Gethsemane. That God was willing to accept a second best, to allow His plan for salvation to go as far as Christ’s freewill effort allowed it to, would have been a tremendous temptation and yet stimulation to Jesus. Hence God’s supreme delight in the totality of Christ’s effort and victory, as described, e.g., in Is. 49:5-9.

– There can be little doubt that standing on a mountain looking out over God’s Kingdom would have reminded Christ of Moses on Nebo, who for one slip was denied it all. And that must have sobered Him (Dt. 34:1). And having quoted Dt. 8:3 to Himself about living on the bread/word of God, His mind would have gone on to Dt. 8:9 with its description of eating bread without scarceness in the Kingdom- i.e. feeding fully on spiritual things, in the allegory.

– The Lord was tempted to believe that He would be miraculously preserved from dashing His foot against a stone. This is an allusion to Prov. 3:23, which promises that the Father will keep the Son in whom He delights from ‘stumbling in the way’. Prov. 3:4 is specifically applied to the Lord Jesus in Lk. 2:52. But ‘stumbling in the way’ in the context of Prov. 3 refers to sinning, and the need to not stumble by the hard effort of applying Divine wisdom in daily life. Do we get another window here into the mind of the Lord? Is not the implication of all this that He was tempted to think that as God’s Son, somehow God would preserve Him from sinning, and so He could do as He wished? Thank God, and Him, that He put that thought so far behind Him.


(1) Christ seeing “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time” (Lk. 4:5) surely refers to the future Kingdom of God on earth- all the kingdoms as they would be in the future (cp. Rev. 11:15).

5-9 Unclean Spirits

Matthew 12: 43-45: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth if empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.”

Popular Interpretation

Unclean spirits are said to be servants of the Satan, who are responsible for entering people and making them sin.


1. Neither Satan nor the devil are mentioned as controlling the unclean spirit.

2. Sin comes from within and nothing from outside a man can enter him and defile him (Mk. 7:15).

3. Verse 45 concludes, “Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation”, showing that this passage is meant to be understood as a parable. “Unclean spirit” is a phrase often synonymous with “demons” in the Gospels. We show elsewhere that Jesus was using the language of the day when talking about demons, and so He was here. Jesus was effectively saying, “In the same way as you believe unclean spirits can go out of a man and re-enter him, so this generation was once cleansed, but is soon going to become even worse than it was initially”.

4. This passage is in the context of Matthew 12:22-28, where Jesus uses the common ideas of the Pharisees to disprove their own argument: “Every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: and if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself…and if I by Beelzebub cast out devils (demons), by whom do your children cast them out?” So Jesus was not saying He believed in Satan or Beelzebub – indeed, Beelzebub is clearly defined as a pagan idol in 2 Kings 1: 2 – but He was using the language of the day to confound the Jews. So it is not surprising that a few verses later He is talking in parabolic language again about unclean spirits. In the same way as He did not believe in Beelzebub, so He did not believe in unclean spirits.

5. That this passage is parabolic is indicated by Matthew 13:10, where “the disciples came, and said unto Him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” Jesus spoke the parables about Beelzebub and unclean spirits on the same day as He told that of the sower (Mt. 12:46; 13:1). The large amount of parabolic language used that day therefore prompted their question.

6. Careful reading indicates that “the unclean spirit” is synonymous with the man, as a deaf demon refers to a deaf man in v. 22 of the same chapter. “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places…” Walking through a wilderness and deciding to return to one’s house is clearly language applicable to a man. This is all confirmed by the fact that Jesus is almost certainly alluding to a verse in the Septuagint version ( which was the Bible in common use in Christ’s time) at Proverbs 9:12, although it is omitted for some reason in the A.V. This verse clearly speaks of a man, not a spirit, “(the scorner of instruction) walks through a waterless waste, through a land that is desert, and with his hands garners barrenness”.

7. The “spirit” often refers to the attitude of mind (e.g. Dt. 2:30; Prov. 25:28; Is. 54:6; 61:3; Ez. 18:31; Mk. 14:38; Lk. 2:40; 2 Cor. 2:13; 12:18; Eph. 4:23). An “unclean spirit” may possibly refer to and unclean state of mind, which would fit the context in vs. 34-36. Because, as a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7), the spirit would be synonymous with the man. Thus the parable would describe a man’s attitude of mind being cleansed and then his going into an even more degenerate state as happened when Saul’s “unclean spirit’ was cured by David playing the harp, and then it returned even worse. Notice that we read of “an evil spirit from the Lord” affecting Saul (1 Sam. 16:14); this attitude of the mind was sent by God, not a super-human evil being.

Suggested Explanations

1. John the Baptist cleansed the Jewish nation to a certain extent; he tried to change the evil heart (spirit) of the Jews (Mal. 4:1 & 6 cp. Mt. 11:10 & 14). The man walking in the wilderness (“dry places”) is like the Jews going out to hear John preach in the wilderness. The whole discourse was sparked off by Jesus curing “one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb” (Mt. 12:22). The cured man was probably standing by, and it would have been a powerful way of reasoning to imply: “You know what this man used to be like. It’s so wonderful that he is now whole. How tragic it would be if he became seven times worse than he was before. But that’s how tragic it will be for you, seeing you do not want to continue in the spiritual healing which John brought you”.

2. We have seen that Jesus was alluding to a passages in Proverbs 9:12, linking the man who rejects wisdom with the Jews, who were now rejecting “Christ…the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1: 24), Christ “who…is made unto us…wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:30). Other details in Proverbs 9 accord with this approach:-

Wisdom…hath killed her beasts…furnished her table. She hath sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places of the city, Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither” (Prov. 9:1-4). This is the basis of the parable of the marriage supper, where the Jews refuse to accept the call to learn the wisdom of Christ (Luke 14). Wisdom crying upon the high place of the city recalls Jesus crying out in the temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem (Jn. 7: 37).

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning” (Prov. 9:9), would refer to those who learnt from John and went on to learn more from Christ.

Come, eat of My bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled” (Prov. 9: 5) recalls Christ’s invitation to eat His flesh and drink His blood, in symbol, at the communion service (Mt. 26: 26-28).

Wisdom hath builded her house” (Prov. 9:1) would perhaps refer to Christ’s sweeping of His house in Matthew 12: 44. Thus the two women of Proverbs, the whore and wisdom, would represent the teaching of the Jewish system and Christ respectively. Apostate Israel are likened to a whore in Ezekiel (16: 28,29 & 31) and Hosea (chapters 1 & 2); see also Jeremiah 3:1,6, 8.

3. We are now in a position to trace some of the symbology in this passage a little deeper. The man, representing the Jews, who would not heed the teaching of Christ, walked through “dry places”. This may recall apostate Israel in the wilderness, who also “tempted Christ” (1 Cor. 10: 9), thereby refusing to obey the teaching of Moses, who represented Christ (Dt. 18:18). God led Israel “through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt” (Jer. 2:6). This exactly recalls the language of Proverbs 9:12 in the Septuagint – “through a waterless waste, through a land that is desert…barrenness”. Notice that Israel in the wilderness sought for the “rest” of the kingdom, but never found it (Heb. 3:11). Similarly, the man in Matthew 12: 43 went through the dry wilderness “seeking rest, and findeth none”.

4. The man decided to return to his house. This must have reference to v. 29, spoken shortly before, which says that the strong man of a house must be bound before the contents of his house can be taken away. Luke 11:22 adds that this can only be done by a stronger man than he. This strong man is Satan, sin, which only Jesus was strong enough to overcome. Because Jesus bound Satan – sin – He was able to do miracles and thus share with us the spoils of the house. There is a hint in the Gospels that the people Jesus cured were also forgiven their sins and sometimes their illnesses were a direct result of their sins (Lk. 5:20; Jn. 5:14). The infirm woman was described as being bound by Satan (Lk. 13:16) until Jesus cured her. Jesus could reason that it was just as effective to say, “Thy sins be forgiven thee” as to say “Rise up and walk” (Lk. 5: 23). The Devil – sin – kept us as bond-slaves in his house until Jesus destroyed him (Heb.2:14-18). Jesus began to bind the strong man of sin in His life, and therefore could share the spoils with us to some extent then, although He did so more fully through His death. Thus the house to which the man returned was empty – all the goods of the strong man (v. 29) had been taken away. This may have been symbolized by Jesus cleansing the temple (Mk. 11:15-17). He described the temple to the Jews as “your house” (Mt. 23:38). The man, representing apostate Israel, would call the temple “my house”. Christ’s cleansing of the temple at Passover time would have mirrored the Jewish custom, based on Exodus 12:19, of the firstborn sweeping the leaven from the house. Jesus cleansed the temple, His “Father’s house” (Jn. 2:16).

In prospect, the spiritual house of Israel was swept and emptied of the bad things sin had put in it. The house was “garnished”. Literally this is “kosmos-ed” (Gk. “kosmeo”). The word “Kosmos” describes an order of things. Jesus set up a new Kosmos in the house of Israel by doing away with the Law, which brought awareness of sin, the strong man, Satan (Rom. 7: 7-11; 4:15). For more details see 2-4 “The Jewish Satan”.

The seven other spirits entering the man therefore represent the intense rejection of the Gospel by the Jews after having heard it. Peter seems to allude to “the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Mt. 12:45); talking primarily of the Jewish Christians who had now turned away from Christ, Peter reasons that “If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world (cp. “swept and garnished” ) through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning” (2 Pet. 2:20). Thus it may be that Peter interprets the seven spirits entering the man, i.e. entering his house, as a prophecy of the many Jewish Christians who turned away from the faith due to the work of the Judaizers, who encouraged them to return to the Law. Verse 21 and 22 are on the same theme:

For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, it turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire”.

5-10 The Devil And His Angels

Matthew 25:41: “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels”

Popular Interpretation

This is taken to prove that the devil is a person controlling sinful angels.


1. The devil and his angels are to be destroyed. Everlasting fire is symbolic of total destruction (Jer. 17:27; Jude v. 7) – note in passing that these references show that “everlasting fire” is not to be taken literally and angels cannot die- (Lk. 20:35-36).

2. It was mentioned in the Debate that angels can refer to men (e.g. John the Baptist, Mt. 11:10; John’s disciples, Lk. 7: 24; the two spies, James 2: 25), the original word aggelos being translated and implying a messenger or, by extension, a follower.

3. This verse is describing the judgment at Jesus’ return (v. 31 & 32). If the devil is a personal being, he is destroyed then, but Revelation 20:10 describes the devil being thrown into a lake of fire at the end of the 1,000 year reign of Christ, which will begin at His return. If the devil is a person, he can only be destroyed once – either at the end or the beginning of the 1,000 years. Seeing that Scripture says the devil is destroyed at both times, it follows that it is not a specific individual but representative of something or various groups of people.

4. Matthew 25:32 says that the purpose of the judgment is to punish the wicked men of all nations, the “goats”. Why then is v. 41 saying that the devil is going to be punished, seeing that , according to popular belief, he is not an ordinary man?

Suggested Explanations

1. The fire is prepared for the devil and his angels; those “on the left hand” are thrown into it. It would seem that the devil’s angels are the goats on the left hand, who are ordinary people guilty of vs. 42-45 – not visiting the sick or giving to the poor, etc. People who follow the devil – their evil desires – are guilty of neglecting such things, therefore they can be described as the devil’s “angels” or followers.

2 We have shown that “everlasting fire” represents everlasting punishment. The devil and his angles are to be thrown into everlasting fire. Verse 46 says, “these (the unloving men and women of vs. 42-45; the “goats” of the human nations of v. 32) shall go away into everlasting punishment”. Thus the devil’s angels are equated with fleshly people who are “angels” (messengers, i.e. servants) of their evil desires.

3. Matthew 13:38-42 says that those people who are sinners although apparently still in the kingdom of the Jewish world (vs. 38 & 41) are “tares” sown by the devil, and they will be punished by eternal fire (punishment). The tares are plants similar to the wheat – the faithful – but at the day of judgment there is a division made between the good and bad Christians. Bringing together Matthew 13 and Matthew 25, we can see that the devil’s children or “angels’ are the same as wicked men:-

The good seed, the Word, wheat


Sown by Jesus

Sown by the devil

Children of the Kingdom

Children of the wicked one



The righteous

The wicked

Enter the Kingdom

Go away into everlasting punishment (death)

Loving people

Selfish people

(Matt. 25:35-36)

(Matt. 25:42-44) Them (people) which do iniquity wail and gnash their teeth (a reaction experienced by men).

5-11 Satan Takes Away The Word

Mark 4:15: “And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts”.

Popular Interpretation

Satan is a person who stops us being righteous.


1. If this is so, then there is nothing we can do to stop Satan hindering us; “we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15: 19).

2. “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:11). Jesus showed the power of the Word in overcoming the devil in the wilderness. There is no way that a personal being can be more powerful than God’s Word, otherwise there is no point in God giving us the Word to fortify ourselves – “put on the whole armour of God (e.g. ‘the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God”), that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11 & 17).

3. Satan “coming” does not mean it is a personal being: v. 19 describes “the lusts of other things” – i.e. the true devil – “entering in” , as though they, too, physically moved.

Suggested Explanations

1. It is our giving way to our own evil heart that is the only thing that can stop the Word acting on us as it should. Our lack of effort to apply the Word of God, which springs from our evil desires, is therefore our “Satan”. We are our own Satan (adversary).

2. Matthew 13:19 says that the reason for “Satan” taking away the Word from the hearts of these people is because they do not understand it (Mt. 13:14-15). Thus just hearing the Bible’s message and not bothering to carefully study it is a typical way in which “Satan” – our evil desires – works.

3. See 2-4 “The Jewish Satan” for another approach to this parable.

5-12 Satan As Lightning

Luke 10: 18: “And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven”.

Popular Interpretation

This shows that Satan was once in heaven.


1. We have shown that no sinful being can be tolerated in God’s presence in Heaven (Mt. 6:10; Ps. 5: 4-5; Hab. 1:13)

2. Jesus is using parabolic language – “as lightning fall from heaven” – so this “Satan” fell. Lightning comes from heaven in the sense of the sky, not as in the dwelling place of God.

3. Any attempt to link this with the prince of this world being cast out is difficult, because that happened at Christ’s death (n.b. “now” in Jn.12:31), whereas this falling of Satan occurred during His ministry.

4. According to popular thought, “Satan” is supposed to have fallen from heaven in Eden, so that he was on the earth at Job’s time, yet Jesus is described as seeing this occurring at His time. Weymouth adds a marginal note on Lk. 10:18 in his translation of the Bible: “The thought is not that of Milton’s rebel angel banished for ever from the abide of bliss”.

5. If an evil being and his host of followers fell down on to earth literally, why did only Jesus see it and not the disciples? Why is there no other record of this strange event?

6. Falling from heaven is figurative of losing authority, e.g. it is used about the demise of the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14. See also Lamentations 2:1 and Jeremiah 51:53.

Suggested Explanations

1. The apostles had just cured many people (Lk. 10:17) and were blinded by their great physical power over disease (v. 20). The real cause of illness and disease is our sin prone nature. That sin is the ultimate reason for illness is stressed in Matthew 9:12 and 12:11, where a sheep gone astray, a clear symbol of a sinner (Mt. 18:13), is equated with a sick man. The principle is summed up in Matthew 9: 5 “Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and walk?”. Thus Jesus said, “I beheld Satan fall”, i.e. “In My view the great thing was that the power of sin was being overcome”.

2. There must be a connection with v. 15: “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell”. Is Jesus implying that “Satan”, the ways of the flesh, which were so well exemplified in Capernaum, were being overcome? Notice that Capernaum was “exalted” in Jewish eyes. “Satan” often referring to the Jewish system (2-4 “The Jewish Satan”), maybe Jesus is equating Capernaum with “Satan” and commenting how the sin which was at the basis of this system was being overcome by the preaching of the Gospel.

5-13 Satan Entered Judas

Luke 22:3: “Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve”.

See Section 2-4, “The Jewish Satan”.

Note in passing how “enter” is used in a non-physical sense in Mt. 25:21 “enter into the joy of your Lord”, entering in at the narrow gate (Mt. 7:13), entering into another’s labours (Jn. 4:38). ‘Satan’ enters a man’s heart in the sense that “the lusts of other things enter in” (Mk. 4:19); in this sense we can “enter into temptation” (Lk. 22:46).

The link between Judas and the ‘devil’ is brought out by a consideration of Luke’s comment that Judas “sought an opportune time [eukairan] to betray Jesus” (Lk. 22:6). But Luke earlier used this word in Lk. 4:13 to describe how the “devil” in the wilderness departed from the Lord “until an opportune time” [achri kairou]. The Lord’s victory in the wilderness prepared Him for the victory over the ‘devil’ which He achieved in His final passion. Just as the temptation to ‘come down from the cross’ was a repetition of the temptation to throw Himself down from the temple. John’s Gospel often repeats the history of the other Gospels, but in different language. In Mt. 26:46, the Lord comments upon the arrival of Judas: “Rise, let us be going; my betrayer is coming”. But Jn. 14:30,31 puts it like this: “The prince of this world [a phrase understood as meaning ‘the evil one’, the Devil] is coming… Rise, let us be going”. John is picking up the mythological language of the ‘satan’ figure, and applying it to a real person with real attitudes and sinful intentions- i.e. Judas, who is presented as a personification of the ‘Satan’ / ‘Devil’ / ‘Prince of this world’ principle.

We can easily overlook the huge significance of Mk. 14:21 recording the Lord’s words that Judas personally was guilty for betraying Him, and would suffer accordingly- even though Lk. 22:22 says that Judas did this because the Satan [i.e. the Jews] ‘entered him’. Whatever that means, it doesn’t mean that Judas nor anyone is thereby not personally responsible for their actions.

The translation of the Greek text in Jn. 13:2 has been problematic. “The devil having put into the heart of Judas” doesn’t quite do justice to what the Greek is really saying. The respected expositor and Greek student C.K.Barratt insists that strictly, the Greek means ‘the devil had put into his own [i.e. the devil’s] heart, that Judas should betray Jesus’(1). This translation is almost impossible to make any sense of given the orthodox understanding of the ‘devil’. And so most popular translations ignore the obvious difficulty by glossing over the strict meaning of the Greek. Understanding the ‘devil’ as the innate source of temptation within the human heart, the picture becomes clearer. The idea is surely that the thought of betraying Jesus began within the devil-mind of Judas; he ‘put the thought in his own mind’, as if to stress how Judas conceived this thought totally of himself and within his own mind, just as later Ananias and Sapphira [in an analogous incident] ‘conceived this thing within their heart’. So properly translated, Jn. 13:2 actually supports our general thesis about the devil- it is stressing that the heart of Judas was itself responsible, that heart put the idea of betraying Jesus into itself- and nobody else was responsible. Note how the Lord addresses Judas as if Judas had full responsibility for his actions and control over them- e.g. “What you are going to do, do quickly” (Jn. 13:27), and Mk. 14:21 “Woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! Good were it for that man if he had never been born”. Those two passages alone surely make it clear that Judas was no robot, no puppet on a satanic string. He had full responsibility and choice over his actions, hence these words of the Lord to him. Summing up, we are left with the question: Did Judas betray Jesus, or did Satan , working through Judas, betray Jesus? The answer, surely, is that it was Judas, and he must bear full responsibility for that.


(1). C.K. Barratt, The Gospel According To St. John (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978) p. 365. Barratt’s view of the Greek is confirmed in D.A. Carson, Divine Sovereignty And Human Responsibility (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1981) p. 131.

5-14 Peter And Satan

Luke 22:31; “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat”.

See 2-4 “The Jewish Satan”.

Apart from the comments on these two verse there, it is noteworthy that the Lord had previously warned that the Jewish satan would be actively trying to influence the disciples away from the Truth: “Woe unto the world (often referring to the Jewish world in the Gospels) because of the offences!…but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!…whoso shall offend one of these little ones (the disciples – Zech. 13:7 cp. Mt. 26:31) which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned” (Mt. 18:6-7). This invites comparison with “Woe unto that man by whom the son of man is betrayed…it had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Mt. 26:24). Notice that this stumbling of the disciples at the hand of the Jewish world and its servant Judas was to be around the time of Christ’s capture (Mt. 26:31); which is what Luke 22:31 is warning the disciples (“you” plural) about, and which proved to be so relevant to Peter in the hours after the Lord’s capture. Further proof that “the world” that was to cause these offences was the Jewish world is found by comparing Mt. 13:38 & 41 (and cp. notes on these verses in “The Jewish Satan”). It’s also been pointed out that ‘Satan desires to sift you as wheat’ “is a proverbial expression” (1). Schleiermacher therefore observes about this passage: “There is no intention to teach anything with regard to Satan or to confirm that older belief” (2).

There’s also some evident allusion back to the record of Job in the Septuagint version. “The Lord said to the devil, ‘Behold I give him over [paradidonai] to you; only preserve his life” (Job 2:6 LXX). Paradidonai and related words are very frequently used of how the Lord Jesus was ‘handed over’ to the systems of the Roman and Jewish Satan (e.g. Mk. 14:41), and yet ultimately His life was preserved by God. Here in Lk. 22:31 we have the Jewish Satan desiring to have the disciples, just as Job’s ‘satan’ desired. If the disciples grasped the allusion, they would perceive that they were to be as Job, and believe that ultimately the ‘satan’ was under God’s control, and through prayerful endurance they would come to victory as Job did.


(1) H.A.Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge: C.U.P., 2006) p. 312.

(2) F.E. Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith (London: Clark, 1999 ed.) p. 165.

5-15 Your Father The Devil

John 8:44: “Ye are of your father the Devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it”.

Popular Interpretation

The Devil is a person who has children, who are the sinful people. They obey what he tells them to do. “From the beginning” is taken as a reference to the serpent in Eden.


1. The use of the pronoun “he” does not indicate that the Devil is a person. “Wisdom” is personified as a woman house-builder (Prov. 9:1) and sin as a paymaster paying wages (Rom. 6:23). Human lust is personified as a man who drags us away to enticement. If it is accepted that sin and sinful tendencies are personified, there should be no problem in imagining that persona being given a name- “Satan”, the adversary.

2. There is no specific reference here to the serpent in Eden.

3. We sin because of the lusts that begin inside us (Mk. 7: 21-23; James 1:14; Jer. 17:9). Our evil heart – the real Devil – is the father of our lusts and sins. “The lusts of your father” the Devil, are thus the same as the lusts of our evil heart – the Devil.

4. The Devil is a murderer. But “no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (1 Jn. 3:15). The Devil must, therefore, die – but as angels cannot die (Lk. 20:35-36) they are therefore immortal, and have eternal life abiding in them.

5. In our exposition of Mark 4:15, we have identified the children of the Devil as those who obey their evil desires – the real Devil.

6. “Ye do that which ye have seen with your father” (the Devil) v. 38. The Jews had not literally seen a person called the Devil, which indicates that when Jesus spoke about the Jews being of their father the Devil, He was again using parabolic language.

7. They were of the Devil in the sense that, “ye do the deeds of your father” (v. 41), i.e. they continued the family likeness.

8. If the Devil is a murderer then he isn’t immortal, for in commentary on this verse John later explained [as if there had already arisen misunderstandings in the time between John’s Gospel and epistles]: “No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (1 Jn. 3:15). Angels are immortal (Lk. 20:36), so therefore this “murderer” wasn’t a ‘fallen Angel’.

Suggested Explanations

1. Scripture often uses the characteristics of something mentioned at an earlier point in the Bible to describe what a group of people are like. Thus “the sting of death is sin” (1 Cor. 15: 56) alludes back to the sting of the serpent in Eden, but it doesn’t mean that death is a literal serpent – it has the characteristics of the serpent. Thus the dragon in Revelation 12: 9 is called “that old serpent”. A dragon cannot be a snake at the same time; but it had the characteristics of the serpent in Genesis.

2. Similarly, the Devil, the desires which are in our heart forming and stimulating an evil inclination, has the characteristics of the serpent, but it does not mean that the serpent was the Devil itself. The serpent was “subtil” (Gen. 3:1; 2 Cor.11: 3); this may well be behind the description of the Jews consulting “that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him” (Matt. 26: 4). The serpent in Eden was the prototype of the Jewish system; their killing of Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy that the seed of the serpent (sin manifested in the Jews, Mt. 12: 34; Lk. 3: 7, in it’s primary meaning) would wound the seed of the woman, Christ, in the heel (Gen. 3:15).

3. John 8: 44 is also a reference to Cain, the first murderer – “he was a murderer from the beginning” (Gen. 4: 8-9). He “abode not in the truth” as he was the father of the seed of the serpent who corrupted the true way of worshipping God (see exposition of Gen. 6: 2 for more on this: “Suggested Explanations” , No. 4).The letter of John often alludes to the Gospel of John, and 1 John 3:12 & 15, is an example; it confirms this interpretation: “Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one (i.e. the Devil – Mt. 13:19 cp. Mk. 4:15) and slew his brother…Whosoever hateth his brother (as Cain did) is a murderer”. However, it is also true that John 8: 44 alludes to the serpent as well. The serpent told the first lie, “Ye shall not surely die” (Gen. 3: 4); he did not abide in the truth; he was a murderer in the sense that he brought about the death of Adam and Eve. “He is a liar, and the father of it”. But in the same way as Cain was not a super-human person called the Devil, but an ordinary man, having the characteristics of the serpent and manifesting the Devil – our evil desires – so, too, the Devil – our evil desires – has characteristics of the serpent (see exposition of Genesis 3, earlier) – not a being called the Devil. The way in which the fire consumed Abel’s offering but not Cain’s is paralleled by the fire burning up Elijah’s offering but leaving those of the apostate Jewish Baal worshippers (1 Kgs.18: 19-40). This would associate Cain with apostate Jews, i.e. the Jewish Devil.

4. Note: “…he is a liar , and the father of it”. Jesus does not say “he was a liar”. If we tell a lie, it is a result of the Devil, in the sense of our evil desires prompting us – not due to any force outside of us. Lying is one of those things that Jesus lists in Mk. 7:15,21-23 as not entering a man from outside him, but originating from within him. The Devil is the ‘father’ of lies in the sense that they originate from within us- which is where the Biblical Devil is located.

5. “When he speaketh a lie” – when someone lies, it is not a super-human person called the Devil standing in front of him, it is the Devil, in the sense of the man’s evil desires speaking to him. “Deceit” – i.e. lies – proceed “from within, out of the heart of men” (Mk. 7:21-22).

6. The context of John 8 is Jesus stressing that if only the Jews would truly follow the Word of God, then they would not be seeking to murder Him. There is a pointed contrast between those who are born of the Word of God and those conceived by the Devil, our evil heart. Man’s heart is evil continually (Gen. 6: 5), and it is only by the Word of God being there that we can stop the evil desires there – the Devil – leading us into sin (Ps.119: 11; James 1: 13-15):-

– Thus Jesus said that the Jews were murderers (i.e. of the Devil – v. 44) because the word “hath no place in you’ (Jn. 8: 37);

– “Because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the Devil” (v. 43-44);

– Because Jesus kept the saying (Greek : logos – word) of God, He was not a liar like the Jews (v. 55) – and they were liars because they were of the Devil (v. 44);

– “There is no truth in him” (the Devil – v. 44) because “Thy Word is truth (Jn.17:17). The Devil is therefore the opposite to the Word of God. Jesus said, “If ye continue in my Word…ye shall know the Truth” (Jn. 8: 31-32);

– “He that is (born) of God heareth God’s Words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (v. 47), i.e. they were of the Devil, (v. 44);

– “I tell you the Truth (the Word – Jn. 17:17), ye believe me not” (v. 45) – because,( v. 44), “ye are of the Devil”, which is not sensitive to the Word of Truth”;

– The seed of the Devil is therefore our lusts, which result in the conception of sin (James 1:13-15; Matt.13: 39). Believers are born “not of (this) corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God” (1 Pet.1: 23; James 1:18), the seed of the Word preached by Christ (Lk. 8:11).

Thus, because it is through the Word that our evil desires are overcome, they who, like the Jews, reject that Word, will be living lives and making judgments governed solely by their evil desires – they will be truly “of the Devil”.

5-16 Oppressed Of The Devil

Acts 10: 38: “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him”.

See exposition of Matthew 12: 43-45, “Suggested Explanations” No. 4.

5-17 Child Of The Devil

Acts 13:10: “And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?”

See exposition of John 8: 44 and section 2-4 “The Jewish Satan”

5-18 The Power Of Satan

Acts 26: 18: “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me”.

Popular Interpretation

This is used to “prove” that a being called “Satan” keeps the whole world in ignorance of the Gospel.


1. Verse 17 shows that the “they” and “them” referred to are the Gentiles. Are we to think that the Jews were not under the “power of Satan”? At the time Paul was writing there were very many sinful Jews, consciously persecuting the Christians. So this verse cannot be referring to the entire human race.

2. There is no specific indication here that “Satan” is a personal being.

Suggested Explanations

1. There are some clear contrasts drawn here:-

To open their eyes

(They were blind).

To turn them from darkness

to light.

From the power of Satan (sin)

unto God (cp. 1 Jn. 1: 5).


receive forgiveness of sins.

(Gentiles without inheritance by faith among “the hope of Israel”)

them (the Jews) that had access to sanctification by faith .

The Word of God is a light (Ps.119:105) and is associated with open eyes (Ps.119:18). We are sanctified by the Word (Jn.17:17). We have seen in our exposition of John 8: 44 that it is by the Word that the power of Satan is overcome; i.e. Satan in the sense of the power our evil desires have over our unregenerated heart. ‘Satan’ is therefore the antithesis to the light of God’s word- it refers to the flesh, which is the opposition of the Spirit word.

2. Ephesians 4:17-20, almost seems to directly allude back to this passage in Acts 26:18; Ephesians 4:17-20; “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ…”.

Being under the power of Satan is therefore a result of having an empty, vain, fleshly mind (i.e. Satan – as evil desires in our mind -having full power) and being ignorant, without understanding. Matthew 13:19 says that Satan (cp. Mk 4:15) has power over a person because of their lack of understanding of the Word. Ephesians 4:17-20, is saying the same thing as “the power of Satan” defined in Acts 26:18. “To open their eyes” implies to have the eyes of understanding opened (cp. Eph. 1:18).

3. Acts 26:18 implies that it was “the power of Satan” that stopped the Gentiles from sharing the inheritance of the Gospel which was preached to the Jews in the promises (Gal. 3:8; Jn. 4:22). We have shown (in section 2-4 “The Jewish Satan”) that “Satan” is often connected with the Law and the Jewish system. Maybe this is another example. Note too the allusions in this verse to Isaiah 42: 6-7: “I…will…keep thee, and give thee for a…light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house”. This equates the power of Satan with a prison house, and the Law is likened to a prison in Galatians 3: 23 and 4: 3.

There are allusions in Acts 26:18 to the Jews’ crucifixion of Jesus – “this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Lk. 22:53); “Satan” (the Jews) hath desired to have you” (Lk. 22:31), Jesus warned the disciples at the last supper.

The previous verse (Acts 26:17) shows Jesus strengthening Paul to be brave in his mission to the Gentiles – “delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles”. Jesus Himself, was “delivered to the Gentiles” (see Lk. 18:32-33) for crucifixion by the Jews, and Mark 15:15 implies Jesus was delivered to “the people”, too. The phrase “the people’ frequently occurs in the crucifixion records. It is as if Jesus is saying, “I was delivered to the Gentiles and (Jewish) people because of My preaching; I am now commissioning you to preach, facing the same battle against (the Jewish) Satan and man’s blindness to the Word of God, due to his love of the flesh, as I did, but I will deliver you from the Gentiles and Jewish people, rather than deliver you to them, as I was. You are going to spend your life going through the same experiences as I faced in My last hours”. Thus, in yet another way, we can understand how Paul could say, “I am crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2: 20). This interpretation is confirmed by our “Suggested Explanation” No. 3 of 2 Corinthians 12: 7.

5-19 Delivering Unto Satan

1 Corinthians 5:5: “…To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”.

Popular Interpretation

It is argued that when a believer falls from grace, he is taken over again by Satan.


1. The purpose of this delivering was in order “that the spirit may be saved”. If Satan is intent on making people sin and alienated from God, why should what he does to them result in them being saved? It is by the experiences of life that God controls, that we are spiritually developed (Heb.12: 5-11).

2. How could the church at Corinth deliver the fallen brother to Satan if no one knows where to locate him?

3. “Destruction” can also imply “punishment” (e.g. 2 Thess.1: 9). Are we to think that God would work in cooperation with an angel who is rebelling against Him?

4. Notice that Satan is not described as eagerly entering the man, as we would expect if Satan is constantly trying to influence all men to sin and to turn believers away from God. The church (v. 4) is told to deliver the man to Satan.

Suggested Explanations

1. One of the big “Satans” – adversaries – to the early church was the Roman authority of the time, who, as the first century progressed, became increasingly opposed to Christianity. The Greek phrase “to deliver” is used elsewhere, very often in a legal sense, of delivering someone to a civil authority, e.g. :-

– Someone can “deliver thee to the judge” (Matt. 5: 25).

– “They will deliver you up to the councils” (Matt. 10:17).

– The Jews “shall deliver (Jesus) to the Gentiles” (Matt. 20:19)

– “The Jews will…deliver (Paul) into the hands of the Gentiles” (Acts 21:11).

– “Yet was I delivered prisoner” (Acts 28:17).

So is Paul advising them to hand over the sinful brother to the Roman authorities for punishment? The sin he had committed was incest, and this was punishable under the Roman law. Remember that “destruction” also implies “punishment”. Leander Keck demonstrates that the behaviour of the incestuous man was “contrary to both Jewish and Roman law”, rendering him liable to punishment by those authorities (1).

2. “Satan” here may simply refer to the man’s evil desires. He had given way to them in committing the sin of incest, and Paul is perhaps suggesting that if the church separates from the man and leaves him to live a fleshly life for a time, maybe eventually he will come round to repentance so that ultimately his spirit would be saved at the judgment. This is exactly what happened to the prodigal son (Luke 15); living a life away from his spiritual family and totally following Satan – his evil desires – resulted in him eventually repenting. Jeremiah 2:19 sums this up: “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter” (that they had done).

3. “The flesh” does not necessarily mean “the body”. It may also refer to a way of life controlled by our evil desires, i.e. Satan. Believers “are not in the flesh, but in the spirit” (Rom. 8: 9). This does not mean that they are without physical bodies, but that they are not living a fleshly life. Before conversion “we were in the flesh” (Rom. 7: 5). Galatians 5: 19 mentions sexual perversion, which the offender at Corinth was guilty of, as a “work of the flesh”. 1 John 3: 5 (cp. v. 8), defines sins as the “works of the devil”, thus equating the flesh and the devil. Thus 1 Corinthians 5: 5 could read, “Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of Satan/the devil” , so that we have Satan destroying Satan. It is impossible to understand this if we hold to the popular belief regarding Satan. But if the first Satan is understood as the Roman authority and the second one as the flesh, or sinful expressions of our evil desires, then there is no problem.

4. We have seen in our notes on Luke 10:18 that Satan is sometimes used in the context of reminding us that physical illness is ultimately a result of our sin. It may be that the spirit- gifted apostles in the first century had the power of afflicting sinful believers with physical illness or death – e.g. Peter could order Ananias and Sapphira’s death (Acts 5); some at Corinth were physically “weak and sickly” as a punishment for abusing the communion service (1 Cor.11:30); Jesus could threaten the false teachers within the church at Thyatira with instant death unless they repented (Rev. 2: 22-23) and James 5:14-16 implies that serious illness of some members of the church was due to their sins, and would be lifted if there was repentance. If the sickness mentioned here was an ordinary illness, it does not follow that if a Christian repents of sin he will automatically be healed, e.g. Job was afflicted with illness as a trial from God, not because he sinned. It was for the help and healing of repentant believers who had been smitten in this way, that “the gift of healing” was probably mainly used in the early church (1 Cor.12: 9). Thus Paul’s delivering the incestuous brother to Satan and also delivering “Hymaenaeus and Alexander…unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim.1:20), may have involved him smiting them with physical sickness due to their following of Satan – their evil desires.

Some time later Paul noted how Alexander still “greatly withstood our words” (2 Tim. 4: 14-15). The extent of his withstanding Paul’s preaching is made apparent if we understand that Alexander had been struck ill by Paul before he wrote the first letter to Timothy, but had still refused to learn his lesson by the time Paul wrote to Timothy again. Again – notice that Satan would try and teach Alexander “not to blaspheme” (1 Tim.1:20). If Satan is an evil person who is a liar and blasphemer of God’s Word, how can he teach a man not to blaspheme God?

(5) The same verb for ‘delivering over’ occurs in the LXX of Job 2:6, where God ‘hands over’ Job to Satan, with the comment [in LXX]: “you are to protect his psyche, his spirit”. The connection between the passages would suggest to me that Job was in need of spiritual improvement, even though he was imputed as being righteous (Job 1:1). Whatever, the point surely is that God handed a person over to an adversary, for that person’s spiritual salvation. The orthodox idea of God and Satan being pitted in conflict just doesn’t cut it here. Biblically, God is portrayed as in charge of any ‘Satan’ / adversary, and using ‘satans’ at His will for the spiritual improvement of people, rather than their destruction. The story of Job is a classic example. Are we to really understand that there is a personal being called Satan who’s disobedient to God, out of His control, and bent on leading people to their spiritual destruction? No way, Jose. Not yet, Josette. 1 Cor. 5:5 and the the record of Job teach the very dead opposite. And by all means bring on board here 2 Tim. 2:26, which speaks of people being caught in the Devil’s trap at God’s will / desire (2).


(1) Leander Keck, Paul And His Letters (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988) p. 106.

(2) This is the translation offered by H.A. Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge: C.U.P., 2006) p. 119.

5-20 The God / Prince Of This World

2 Corinthians 4: 4: “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them”.

John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11: “The prince of this world”

See 2-4 “The Jewish Satan”.

2 Corinthians 4:4 “The god of this world”

The Eastern (Aramaic) text reads: “To those in this world whose minds have been blinded by God, because they did not believe”

Note in passing that it is darkness which blinds men’s eyes (1 Jn. 2:11), i.e. not walking according to the light of God’s word. There is only one God- not two. And it’s also noteworthy that Is. 6:10 speaks of God as having the power to blind Israel. The New Testament repeats this. Rom. 11:8 says that God (and not Satan) blinded Israel to the Gospel; 2 Cor. 3:14 says that their minds were blinded or “hardened” (RV) as Pharaoh’s was. Whoever “the god of this world” is or was, God worked through it and is therefore greater than it. Henry Kelly comments: “Given this track record, can we see the God of this Aeon as our God, as Yahweh? He is, after all, in charge of everything” (1). It is God and not any independent Satan figure who sends people an energeia of error to believe falsehood (2 Thess. 2:12)- the ultimate ‘energy’ in the process is fro mGod.

For something to be called “the god of this world” does not necessarily mean that it is in reality “the god of this world”; it could mean ‘the thing or power that this world counts to be God’. Thus Acts 19:27 speaks of the goddess Diana, a lifeless idol, “whom all the world worshippeth”. This doesn’t mean that the piece of wood or stone called Diana was in reality the goddess of this world. I mentioned in section 1-1-2 that Paul is quoting “the god of this world” from contemporary Jewish writings rather than actually believing such a ‘god’ existed. It’s also possible that “the god of this world” who blinds people is an allusion to material in the documents comprising what are now known as the Gnostic Gospels. The Hypostasis Of The Archons claims to record God’s rebuke of Satan: “”You are mistaken, Samael”, which means, “god of the blind”” (2). Paul in this case would be alluding to popular belief about Satan, and reapplying this language to the Jewish opposition to the Gospel, and to the human “blindness” which stops them accepting Christ. In Eph. 4:18 Paul specifically defined what he meant by “darkness”: “Having the understanding darkened… through the ignorance that is within them… the blindness of their heart”. That opposition, rather than any mythical ‘Samael’, was the real adversary / Satan.

Even if it is insisted that Satan exists as a personal being, the question has to be faced: Who created Satan? Is his power under God’s control, or not? Time and again the ‘satan’ and ‘demon’ passages of the Bible indicate that however we are to understand these terms, God is more powerful, God is in control. The book of Job shows how the Satan there had all power given to him by God. The power of the Lord Jesus over ‘demons’ makes the same point. And in that context, note how Ex. 4:11 assures us that God is the one who makes people deaf, but Lk. 11:14 speaks of how such muteness is apparently caused by demons. Clearly, God is in control. This world, with all the evil and negative experience in it, has not been left under the control of some out-of-control evil being. With this in mind, it should be apparent that the ‘god of this world’ can’t mean that the world is under the ultimate control of Satan rather than God. Rather, “the god of this world” [aion] “can also be read as merely a personification of all the forces of this aion that would thwart the success of the Christian message” (3).

The way that the idea of ‘Satan’ is used to describe both individual sin and societies governed by the principle of sin is very much in line with the way that first century society was very much a communalistic rather than an individualistic society. The society was the person. Further, social scientists and psychologists have time and again confirmed the Biblical teaching that the fundamental motivation of human beings is the ego, self-interest- what the Bible calls ‘Satan’. This is what drives people at the individual level, and thus drives societies (4). It’s appropriate, therefore, for ‘Satan’, the personification of human sin and self-interest, to also be a term applied to human governments and societies as a whole. Truly in this sense (the Biblical) Satan could be understood as “the god of this world”.

A Jewish Interpretation

If Scripture interprets Scripture, “the god of this world (aion)” in 2 Corinthians 4: 4 must be similar to “the prince of this world (kosmos)” (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Both the Jewish age [aion] and kosmos ended in A.D. 70. In the context, Paul has been talking in 2 Cor. 3 about how the glory shining from Moses’ face blinded the Israelites so that they could not see the real spirit of the law which pointed forward to Christ. Similarly, he argues in chapter 4, the Jews in the first century could not see “the light of the glorious (cp. the glory on Moses’ face) gospel of Christ” because they were still blinded by “the god of this world” – the ruler of the Jewish age. The “prince” or “God” of the “world” (age) was the Jewish system, manifested this time in Moses and his law. Notice how the Jews are described as having made their boast of the law…made their boast of God (Rom. 2:17,23). To them, the Law of Moses had become the god of their world. Although the link is not made explicit, there seems no reason to doubt that “the prince of this world” and “Satan” are connected. It is evident from Acts (9:23-25,29-30; 13:50,51; 14:5,19; 17:5,13; 18:12; 20:3) that the Jews were the major ‘Satan’ or adversary to the early Christians, especially to Paul. Of course it has to be remembered that there is a difference between Moses’ personal character and the Law he administered; this contrast is constantly made in Hebrews. Similarly the Law was “Holy, just and good”, but resulted in sin due to man’s weakness – it was “weak through the flesh”, explaining why the idea of Satan/sin is connected with the Law. Because of this it was in practice a “ministry of condemnation”, and therefore a significant ‘adversary’ (Satan) to man; for in reality, “the motions of sins…were by the Law” (Rom. 7:5).

John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 “The prince of this world”

The “prince of this world” is described as being “cast out”, coming to Jesus, having no part in Him and being “judged”, all during the last few hours before Christ’s death (Jn.12:31; 14:30; 16:11). All these descriptions seem to fit the Jewish system as represented by the Law, Moses, Caiaphas the High Priest, Judas and the Jews wanting to kill Jesus, and Judas. Note that “the prince of this world” refers to Roman and Jewish governors in 1 Cor. 2:6,8. At Christ’s death the Mosaic system was done away with (Col. 2:14-17); the “bondwoman”, representing the Law in the allegory, was “cast out” (Gal. 4: 30). “The prince of this world” is described, in the very same words, as being “cast out” (Jn. 12:31).

Wycliffe in archaic English renders Mt. 26:3:  “Then the princes of priests and the elder men of the people were gathered into the hall of the prince of priests, that was said Caiaphas”. The “world” in John’s Gospel refers primarily to the Jewish world; its “prince” can either be a personification of it, or a reference to Caiaphas the High Priest. Caiaphas’ equivalent name in Hebrew could suggest ‘cast out’; his rending of his priestly clothes at Christ’s trial declared him “cast out” of the priesthood (see Lev. 10: 6; 21:10). “This world” and its “prince” are treated in parallel by John (12:31 cp. 16:11)- just as Jesus, the prince of the Kingdom, can be called therefore “the Kingdom” (Lk. 17:21). Colossians 2:15 describes Christ’s ending of the Law on the cross as “spoiling principalities and powers” – the “prince” of the Jewish world being “cast out” (a similar idea in Greek to “spoiling”) would then parallel this. The Jews “caught” Jesus and cast Him out of the vineyard (Mt. 21: 39) – but in doing so, they themselves were cast out of the vineyard and “spoiled” by Jesus (Col. 2:15).

If indeed “the prince of this world” is a reference to Caiaphas, then we have to face the fact that this individual is being singled out by the Lord for very special condemnation, as the very embodiment of ‘Satan’, sin and its desires, all that was then in opposition to God. This is confirmed by the Lord’s comment to Pilate that “he that delivered me unto you has the greatest sin” (Jn. 19:11 Gk.- “greater” in the AV is translated “greatest” in 1 Cor. 13:13; Mk. 9:34; Mt. 13:32; 18:1,4; 23:11; Lk. 9:46; Lk. 22:24; Lk. 22:26). It was Caiaphas and the Jews who “delivered” Jesus to Pilate to execute (Mt. 27:2,18; Jn. 18:30,35 s.w.). But the Lord speaks as if one person amongst them in particular had delivered Him to Pilate- and that specific individual was Caiaphas. If Caiaphas had the “greatest sin” in the crucifixion of God’s son, we can understand how he is singled out by the Lord Jesus for such description as the “prince of this world”. A number of expositors have interpreted “the Devil… that had the power of death” in Heb. 2:14-17 as an allusion to Caiaphas.

Judas And “The prince of this world”
After Judas left the upper room we get the impression that Jesus started to talk more earnestly and intensely. Immediately after Judas went out Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified…Little children, yet a little while I am with you… Hereafter I will not talk much (longer) with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me” (Jn. 13:31,33; 14: 30). Because He knew Judas would soon return with his men, Christ wanted to give the disciples as much instruction as possible in the time that remained. This would explain the extraordinary intensity of meaning behind the language used in John 14-17. After He finished, “Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh…” (Jn. 18: 3); “The prince of this world cometh”, Jesus had prophesied, epitomized in the person and attitude of Judas. Christ had told the disciples that “the prince” “hath nothing (cp. no part) in Me” (Jn. 14: 30). Not until Judas appeared with the men would the disciples have realized that he was the betrayer (see Jn.18: 3-5). Jesus knew this would come as a shock to them, and would lead them to question whether they themselves were in Christ; therefore He warned them that Judas, as a manifestation of “the prince of this world”, had no part in Him any longer. For “the Devil” of the Jewish authorities and system, perhaps Caiaphas personally, had put into the heart of Judas to betray the Lord (Jn. 13:2). The whole Jewish leadership were the “betrayers” of Jesus (Acts 7:52) in that Judas, the one singular betrayer, was the epitome of the Jewish system. The prince having nothing in Christ suggests a reference to Daniel 9:26: “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, and shall have nothing (A.V. margin – i.e. have no part): and the people of the prince that shall come (the Romans) shall destroy the city and the sanctuary”. Thus it was the Jewish world as well as Judas which had nothing in Messiah, and the system they represented was to be destroyed by another (Roman) “prince that shall come” to replace the (Jewish) “prince of this world”. The occurrence of the phrase “prince” and the idea of having nothing in Messiah in both Daniel 9: 26 and John 14:30 suggest there must be a connection of this nature.

Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus because he was bought out and thus controlled by the Jewish ‘satan’. The fact that Judas was “one of the twelve” as he sat at the last supper is emphasized by all the Gospel writers – the phrase occurs in Matthew 26:14; Mark 14:20; Luke 22:47 and John 13:21. Thus later Peter reflected: “he was numbered with us (cp. “one of the twelve”), and had (once) obtained part of this ministry” (Acts 1:17), alluding back to Christ’s statement that “the prince of this world” ultimately had no part in Him. Similarly 1 John 2:19 probably alludes to Judas as a type of all who return to the world: “They went out from us, but they were not of us” (cp. “Judas, one of the twelve”). Judas is described as a devil (Jn. 6: 70), and his leaving the room may have connected in the Lord’s mind with “the prince of this world” being cast out. Those who “went out from us” in 1 John 2:19 were primarily those who left the Jewish ecclesias (to whom John was largely writing) to return to Judaism, and they who left were epitomized by Judas. 2 Peter 2:13 & 15 equates the Judaizers within the ecclesias with Balaam “who loved the wages of unrighteousness”. The only other time this latter phrase occurs is in Acts 1:18 concerning Judas.

Cast out”
“Cast out” in the Old Testament at times refers to Israel being cast out of the land for their disobedience (cp. Lk. 19:45). This was what was to happen to the first century Jews. The Law itself was to be “cast out” (Gal. 4:30). The idea of being cast out recalls the casting out of Hagar and Ishmael. The Lord commented concerning the end of the Mosaic system: “The servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever” (Jn. 8: 35). The description of apostate Israel as being “cast out in the open field” with none to pity them except God must have some reference to Ishmael (Ez. 16:5). Galatians 4:29-30 specifically connects the Law with Hagar, and the source of this passage in Isaiah 54:1-7 concerning the calling again of a forsaken young wife who had more children than the married wife has similarities with Hagar’s return to Abraham in Genesis 16. After Hagar’s final rejection in Genesis 21, she wandered through the Paran wilderness carrying Ishmael – as Israel was carried by God through the same wilderness. The miraculous provision of water for Israel in this place is a further similarity, as is Ishmael’s name, which means ‘God heard the cry’ – as He did of His people in Egypt. Thus Hagar and Ishmael represent apostate Israel, and both of them were “cast out”. Romans 9:6-8 provides more confirmation: “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel…but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God”. Paul’s reminder that the seed was to be traced through Isaac, and that the apostate Israel of the first century were not the true Israel of God but the children of the flesh, leads us to identify them with Ishmael, the prototype child of the flesh. In the same way, Jeremiah describes wayward Israel as a wild ass (Jer. 2:24), perhaps inviting comparison with Ishmael, the wild ass man (Gen. 16:12). I have elsewhere given many other Biblical examples of how God’s apostate people are described in terms of those who are not God’s people (5).


(1) H.A. Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge: C.U.P., 2006) p. 66.

(2) As quoted in Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (Garden City: Doubleday, 1989) p. 29.

(3) Neil Forsyth, Satan And The Combat Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989) p. 275.

(4) See R. Harre, Personal Being (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1984) and many others.

(5) See my Judgment To Come 4-8, .

5-21 An Angel Of Light

2 Corinthians 11:13-15: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works”

Popular Interpretation

This is taken to mean that Satan is an angel who deceives Christians by pretending to be righteous.


1. It is also commonly believed that Satan was originally an angel of light and then transformed himself into a serpent or became a sinful angel of darkness. This is the exact opposite of what this verse teaches. This transforming of Satan occurred in Paul’s time – not in Eden, nor in 1914. The popular idea is that Satan was punished for rebellion by being turned from an Angel of light into some kind of ‘dark Angel’. But this verse states that Satan transforms himself, in the time of Paul in the first century. Yet the orthodox view of Satan is that he was an Angel of light who was punished by God to become an Angel of darkness. Yet here Paul is saying that in the first century, in the city of Corinth, here on planet earth, ‘Satan’ transformed himself into an Angel of light. Transformed himself from what? From his fallen state back into his state before he fell? In this case God’s supposed punishment of Satan has little meaning if Satan is able to transform himself back into his previous state.

2. We have seen in section 2-1 that an “angel” in some cases can refer to a man

3. Concerning Satan’s ministers, we are told “whose end shall be according to their works”. This recalls Paul’s words about false Christians in Philippians 3:19: “whose end is destruction”, and also Revelation 20:12-13, which speaks of the resurrected dead believers being “judged every man according to their works”. If Satan’s ministers are to be judged and destroyed, then they cannot be angels, seeing that angels cannot die or be destroyed (Lk. 20:35-36).

4. These verses speak as though the believers to whom Paul was writing were in contact, literally, with Satan’s ministers. The believers were being troubled by “false apostles”, not sinful angels.

Suggested Explanations

1. Verse 4 speaks of some who had entered the church preaching a wrong Gospel and another Jesus. This sets the context for the rest of the chapter. A comparison of verses 13 and 15 clearly shows that these “false apostles” are the “ministers of Satan” – thus they are men, not angels.

2. “Satan” often refers to the Jewish system, especially in its being opposed to Christianity (see section 2-4 “The Jewish Satan”). These ministers of Satan were therefore people working on behalf of the Jews who were infiltrating the Christian churches spreading wrong doctrine. There are frequent references to this infiltration and undermining:

– “False brethren (cp. “false apostles”) unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Gal. 2:4). “Bondage” in Galatians refers to the bondage of keeping the Law of Moses (Gal. 3:23; 4:3,9). “After my (Paul’s) departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29 – the leaders of apostate Israel are likened to wolves in Ez. 22:27 and Zeph. 2: 3).

-As there were false Jewish prophets among Israel in the wilderness, so there would be the same types among the Christian Jews to whom Peter wrote (1 Pet.1:1), “who privily shall bring in damnable heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1).

– “These are spots in your feasts of charity (i.e. the love-feasts; the Breaking of Bread), when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear…these speak evil of those things which they know not” (Jude :12,10 ), i.e. they spoke falsely about Christianity, which they really knew little about.

– “His (Paul’s) letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak” (2 Cor. 10:10). Thus Paul showed that he was “not ignorant of (Satan’s) devices” (2 Cor. 2:11) to undermine Christianity.

– “Him whose coming in (Greek) is after the working of Satan” (2 Thess. 2:9) probably refers to these people too. Their possession of “all power and signs” was due may be to some of the apostate Jewish Christians still possessing the miraculous Spirit gifts (as in Heb. 6:4-6; 1 Cor. 14).

3. The apostles or ministers of John are called his “angels” – Lk. 7:19,24 (cp. 2 Cor. 11:14-15). Thus we can understand the parallel between the apostles of Christ and the angel (apostle) of light. Remember, too, that Christ is the light (Jn. 1:8; 8:12).

False apostles

transforming into Apostles of Christ


transforming into Angel (apostle) of light (Christ)

His ministers

transforming into ministers (angels) of righteousness (Christ)

4. The application of these ministers of Satan to Jews infiltrating the Christians is confirmed by Paul saying in 2 Cor. 11:22 that he was also a Jew as they were.

5. That the ministers of righteousness are to be interpreted as ministers, or apostles, of Christ, is confirmed by Paul saying that he was also a minister of Christ, as they claimed to be (:23).

6. The individual “Satan” in the singular referred to in :14, can either be the Jewish system as a whole trying to give a Christian facade (an angel of light, i.e. a minister of Christ, the true light), or an individual leader of the Jewish system. Bearing in mind the reference of “the prince of this world” to the High Priest (see section 5-20), there may be a reference here to some unrecorded pronouncement by the High Priest concerning Christianity which would give the implication that a bridge could be built between Judaism and Christianity.

7. The “deceitful workers” of :13 who were ministers of the Satan are clearly defined in Philippians 3:2 as “evil workers…of the circumcision”, i.e. those who were teaching that Christians had to be circumcised and thus keep the Law of Moses to be saved. This faction of Jewish believers in the church is described as “them which were of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12).

8. It needs to be recognized that Paul’s writings very often allude to extant Jewish and Gentile literature, sometimes quoting verbatim from them, in order to correct popular ideas. Thus Paul quotes Aratus (Acts 17:28), Menander (1 Corinthians 15:33) and Epimenides (Titus 1:12)- he uses odd phrases out of these uninspired writings by way of illustration. I’ve shown elsewhere (1) that much of the Biblical literature does this kind of thing, e.g. the entire Pentateuch is alluding to the various myths and legends of creation and origins, showing what the truth is. The fact Paul’s 21st century readers are largely ignorant of that literature, coupled with Paul’s rabbinic writing style not using specific quotation rubric or quotation marks, means that this point is often missed. It’s rather like our reading of any historical literature- parts of it remain hard to understand because we simply don’t appreciate the historical and immediate context in which it was written. When Paul speaks of satan being transformed as a bright Angel, he’s actually quoting from the first century AD Life Of Adam And Eve (12-16) which speculated that ‘Satan’ refused to worship the image of God in Adam and therefore he came to earth as a bright Angel and deceived Eve: “Satan was wroth and transformed himself into the brightness of angels, and went away to the river” (2) . Paul’s quoting from that document; although in the preceding verse (2 Cor. 11:3) he has stressed that “the serpent beguiled Eve by his subtilty”. He’s reaffirming the Genesis account, which doesn’t speak of a personal satan, but rather simply of a serpent, created as one of the “beasts of the field”. So we could paraphrase Paul here: ‘I know that the Jewish writings say that the serpent wasn’t really a serpent, it was ‘Satan’, and was actually in the form of a bright Angel. Now that’s not the case- let’s stick with Genesis, which speaks of a literal serpent. But OK, in the same way as in the Jewish myth Satan became a bright, persuasive Angel, well, these false teachers from the Jews appear as wonderful, spiritual people- but following them will lead you to the same catastrophe as fell upon Eve as a result of being deceived’.

9. The way Paul uses the word metaschematizo [“transform”] three times is interesting- “the stress is so heavy here because Paul is turning their own word against his opponents” (3). If this is the case, then we would yet another example [of which there are so many in Corinthians] of Paul using a term used by his enemies in order to answer them- which would mean that he is not necessarily agreeing with it. Indeed the apocryphal Jewish Apocalypse Of Moses claims that because Satan appeared as such a dazzling, shining Angel, Eve was inevitably deceived by him. Paul here would thus be alluding to this idea- not that his allusion means that he supported the idea.


(1) See the digressions The Intention And Context Of Genesis 1-3 , Romans And The Wisdom Of Solomon, Jude And The Book Of Enoch.

(2) For references, see Susan Garrett, The Temptations Of Jesus In Mark’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) p. 45. The Life Of Adam And Eve was apparently widely quoted and alluded to in the first century- see throughout M. Stone, A History Of The Literature Of Adam And Eve (Atlanta: Scholar’s Press, 1992).

(3) Neil Forsyth, Satan And The Combat Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989) p. 269.

5-22 The Messenger Of Satan

2 Corinthians 12:7: “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure”.

Popular Interpretation

This is read to suggest that Satan brings problems into our lives. “Messenger” being the same original word as “angel”, it is argued that Satan uses a sinful angel to do this.


1. The work of this messenger of Satan resulted in Paul developing the spiritual characteristic of humility. The Satan stopped Paul from being proud. Pride is produced by the devil – 1 Timothy 3: 6-7. So we have the situation where Satan stops the work of Satan. Again, this does not make sense under the traditional interpretation of Satan. Mark 7: 20-23 says that pride is a result of our evil heart. Thus the trial brought on Paul by a person acting as a Satan to him stopped his evil desires – another use of the word “Satan” – from leading him into the sin of pride.

2. We have seen in the Debate that “Satan” can be used to describe a man (e.g. Matt. 16:23) and that the word for messenger/angel can also apply to men (e.g. Matt.11:10; Lk. 7:24; James 2:25). “Satan” may also refer to the Jewish system, and thus the messenger of Satan is most likely a man acting on behalf of the Jews.

3. The passage can be translated “a messenger, an adversary…”.

4. Everywhere in Paul’s writings, as well as in Revelation, ‘satan’ always has the definite article- apart from here. Likewise, this is the only time Paul uses the form satan rather than his usual satanas. One reason for that could be that Paul is alluding to or quoting from known Jewish literature or ideas which mentioned a “messenger of satan”. Another possibility is that he refers here to an Angel-satan- for the Greek word translated “messenger” is also that for Angel. In this case, he saw himself as Job, suffering affliction from an Angel-adversary, in order to bring about his spiritual perfection. I have noted the similarities between Job and Paul elsewhere (1).

Suggested Explanations

1. “The messenger of Satan” is probably the same as the ministers of Satan referred to in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, which we have interpreted as the Judaizers in the early church who were discrediting Paul and seeking to undermine Christianity. The buffeting done by this “messenger of Satan” is defined in v. 10: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions…” (i.e. in my thorn in the flesh which God will not take away). Note the parallel between the thorn and those things it caused. The reproaches refer to the Jewish ministers of Satan saying things like, “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor.10:10), as previously explained. The necessities and persecutions quite clearly refer to the constant waves of persecutions he received by the Jews which the book of Acts describe. This would fit the language of “buffeting” – implying physical discomfort that he experienced periodically. The infirmities would refer to the ill health which his persecutions by the Jews no doubt resulted in – being beaten until he appeared dead (Acts 14:19) must have done permanent damage, as would receiving “forty stripes save one” five times and thrice being “beaten with rods” because of the Jews (2 Cor.11:24-25). Thus the passage probably refers to an organized program of persecution of Paul by the Jews which began after the vision of 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, from which time he dates his experience of the thorn in the flesh. It was from this time that Paul’s zealous preaching to the Gentiles no doubt stimulated the Jews to more violent opposition to him. Their complaint against him was often that he was adulterating the Jewish religion by allowing Gentiles the chance of salvation by what he preached.

2. There is the implication that one particular “messenger” of the Jewish Satan organized the persecution of Paul – Alexander (2 Tim. 4:14-15; 1 Tim. 1: 20). The link between the messenger of Satan in 2 Corinthians 12:7 and those of 2 Corinthians 11: 13-15 indicates that this person was a member of the ecclesia also. Whilst the prophecy about “the man of sin” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 has clear reference to the Papacy, a primary application of it may well be to this individual being in the temple (i.e. to church – 1 Tim. 3:15) of God, “whose coming is after the working of (the Jewish) Satan” (2 Thess. 2: 9). This person could do miracles – same as v. 9 – and the Jewish Christians in the early church who brought the ideas of Judaism into the church could also do them (Heb. 6: 4-6). These Jews thus crucified Christ a second time (Heb. 6: 6) – the Jews having done it once already. This man of sin is “the son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2: 3), a phrase used to describe Judas (Jn. 17:12). This suggests an allusion back to Judas, and indicates that the man of sin might also be a Jew, who was within the ecclesia, as Judas was, but who betrayed Christ because he wanted the aims of Judaism to be fulfilled rather than those of Christ. The “day of Christ” referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2: 2-3, before which time the man of sin must be developed, was primarily the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 – which again indicates a primary Jewish fulfillment of the “man of sin”. Notice that organized Jewish opposition to Paul’s preaching was very intense at Thessalonica – Acts 17: 5-13.

3. “A thorn in the flesh”. The word for “thorn” can mean a “stake” – as was used for crucifying. This was to buffet Paul, as Christ was buffeted at the crucifixion (Matt. 26:67). Like Christ in His last hours, Paul prayed for the buffeting of Satan to be removed (2 Cor. 12: 8 cp. Lk. 22: 42). Paul “besought the Lord thrice” for this and so did Jesus in the Garden (Matt. 26:39, 42, 44). Also like Christ, Paul’s prayer for release was not granted, ultimately for his spiritual good. Thus it is implied that because of Paul’s sufferings at the hands of the Jewish Satan throughout his life, his whole life was “crucified with Christ” in that he experienced constantly the sufferings Christ had in His last few hours. This is exactly what we see in Acts 26:18 (see “Suggested Explanations” No. 3 on that passage).

4. There are several other references to the idea of a “thorn in the flesh” in the Old Testament. Numbers 33:55; Joshua 23:13; Judges 2:3; and Ezekiel 28:24, all use this figure of speech to describe the nations surrounding Israel who were eventually the reason for their rejection and their failure to fully inherit the kingdom – Israel failed to destroy them during their initial conquest of the land as they were commanded. These nations are the Arab nations, and the Arabs are figurative of apostate Israel who still trusted in the Law (see “The Jewish Satan” for more details on how Hagar and Ishmael, the Arab ancestors, are connected with apostate Israel ). Thus it is understandable that Paul should use this figure of a thorn in the flesh to describe the apostate Jews who were persecuting him. The figure of the thorns in the flesh is always used in the Old Testament in the context of something that hinders the chances of God’s people of entering the kingdom. Thus this thorn of Jewish opposition to Paul was a big temptation to keep Paul out of the Kingdom. Paul implies that for him to stop making the effort to preach was an especial temptation that would keep him from the Kingdom (1 Cor. 9:16; Eph. 6:20; Col. 4: 4; Acts 18: 9), therefore at the end of his life he could thankfully say that he had finished his ministry of preaching (Acts 20:24; 2 Tim. 4: 7). He was tempted not to preach because of the Jewish opposition – the Jewish thorn in the flesh. So the Old Testament figure of a thorn in the flesh tempting a man not to be in the kingdom was being used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12: 7.

5. Joshua 23:13 describes the nations as “thorns” to Israel – “nails in your heel” in the Septuagint version. This is alluding back to Genesis 3:15, where the seed of the serpent was to bruise the seed of the woman in the heel. Thus the “thorns in the flesh” are linked with the seed of the serpent. Romans 16: 17-20 describes the Judaizers as a Satan who would be shortly bruised under the feet of the Christians, again using the language of genesis 3:15 (see 2-4 “The Jewish Satan” for more on this). Therefore it is fitting for Paul to call the “messenger” of the Jewish Satan a “thorn in the flesh”.


(1) See my Bible Lives Section 3-3-8.

5-23 The Prince Of The Air

Ephesians 2: 1-3: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others”.

Popular Interpretation

The prince of the power of the air is said to be the Devil, who is a spirit making people disobedient to God.


1. The words “Satan” and “Devil” do not occur here.

2. “Walking”, v. 2, (i.e. living) according to the prince of the power of the air, is defined in v. 3 as living according to the lust of our fleshly mind. The “lusts of our flesh” come from within us (Mk. 7: 21-23; James 1:14) not from anything outside of us.

3. “The power of the air” is clearly a figurative expression – “the prince” probably is also.

4. “The prince” is “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience”. The spirit frequently refers to an attitude of mind (e.g. Deut: 2:30; Prov. 25:28; Is. 54:6; 61: 3; Ez. 18:31; Mk.14:38; Lk. 2:40; 2 Cor. 2:13; 12:18; Eph. 4:23). This is confirmed by v. 3 – such people’s lives are controlled by “fulfilling the lusts of our flesh (which come from our heart- James 1:14), fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind”. Fleshly people do not allow their lives to be controlled by a physical “prince” outside of them, but by following their fleshly desires which are in their minds. A physical being cannot exist as a “spirit” in the sense of an intangible essence. A spirit does not have flesh and bones, i.e. a physical body (Lk. 24:39); therefore because “the prince” is a “spirit”, this must be a figurative expression not a physical being. The “spirit” or attitude of mind is a figurative prince, as sin is a figurative paymaster (Rom. 6: 23).

5. This passage (and v. 11) speaks of their former Gentile lives. 1 Pet. 4:3 speaks of life before conversion as: “In the time past we wrought the will of the Gentiles…we walked in lusts”. Their own flesh was their “prince”. Thus walking according to the prince of the air (v.2) is parallel with walking in the flesh (v. 11). The more common antithesis to walking in spirit is walking after the flesh– here termed “the course of this world”.

6. George Lamsa, a native speaker of Aramaic, understands “the prince of the power of the air” to be the dynamic equivalent of the Arabic / Aramaic resh shultana, which he claims would’ve been understood as meaning simply ‘the head of the government’, with no intended reference to the literal air (1).

7. Athanasius argued that the death of Jesus cleansed the air where the demons / fallen angels now live, and therefore physically opened up a way for [supposed] immortal souls to find a way into Heaven (2). Not only was all this unBiblical, it reflects a literalism which reduces God to a being hopelessly bound by physicality. In short, this kind of thinking arose from a basic lack of faith in God as the Almighty, who doesn’t need to build bridges over problems which men have created for Him in their own minds. It should be noted that the idea of saying “Bless you!” when someone sneezes derives from Athanasius’ idea that demons can become so small that they enter a person from the literal air. This is what happens if we insist that the Devil was thrown out of heaven and some of his angels are still in the literal air- it’s literalism gone wrong.

Suggested Explanations

1. Verse 1 says that “you” – the faithful at Ephesus – were dead in sins. Verses 2 and 3 then express the reason for this in four interchangeable ways:

(a) “…ye walked according to the course of this world”

(b) “…according to the prince of the power of the air”

(c) “…the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience”


(d) “…were by nature the children of wrath”.

The “whole world lieth in wickedness (1 Jn. 5:19) because by nature we all have a fleshly mind or spirit. “The children of disobedience” show this by their lives “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (v. 1 & 3). Thus “the prince of the power of the air” is our evil, fleshly mind, i.e. the real Devil.

2. There are many links between Ephesians and Colossians. One of the clearest is between these verses and Colossians 3: 3-7. Colossians 3:3 speaks of us having died to sin as Ephesians 2:1 does. Verses 5-7 amplify what are “the lusts of the flesh” which “the children of disobedience” fulfil:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye walked in them”. These things of v. 5 are “the works of the flesh” mentioned in Galatians 5:19. These things come from within us, not from anything outside (Mk. 7:21-23). Therefore the prince of the power of the air, which causes these things, is again defined as our evil desires.

3. “The air” normally refers to the literal air around us which we breathe. It is a different word to that translated “air’ in the sense of the heavens, e.g. “the birds of the air” (Lk. 9: 58). The seven angels of Revelation 16 pour out their vials on people in various parts of the earth in preparation for the establishment of God’s Kingdom. “The seventh angel poured out his vial into the air” (Rev. 16:17) because his work affected the whole of the earth; it is as a result of this vial that the Kingdom of God is established on the earth and the kingdoms of men are ended. Thus the “power of the air” is a phrase which figuratively refers to a power which has influence over the people of the whole earth – and the power of sin, the fleshly mind, is worldwide.


(1) George Lamsa, New Testament Light (San Francisco Harper & Row) p. 248.

(2) See Nathan K. Ng, The Spirituality of Athanasius (Bern: Lang, 2001).

5-24 Giving Place To The Devil

Ephesians 4:26-27: “Be ye angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the Devil”.

Popular Interpretation

The Devil is a person trying to gain access to our hearts and we must resist.


1. Anger and wrath are works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-20) and proceed out of our evil heart (Mk. 7: 21-23).

2. Letting them develop by being bitter-hearted at the end of a day is the same as giving “place to the Devil”. It is the Devil, therefore, that causes these things. But we have shown in comment1, that it is the flesh and evil heart which do, therefore they are the “Devil”.

3. To “give place to the Devil” implies that the Devil enters us. “The lusts of other (sinful) things entering in” (Mk. 4:19) cause us to sin. Our lusts are described several times as physically moving into our heart from our evil nature where they are stored (see section 5-8-1 ).

4. Verse 28 continues with a warning not to steal, which is a result of our evil desires suggesting wrong things to us. Doing such a thing is thus giving way to the Devil in the sense of our evil desires.

5. See Comments on 1 Timothy 5: 14-15.

5-25 The Wiles Of The Devil

Ephesians 6:11-13: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand”.

Popular Interpretation

This is taken to indicate that there are wicked spirits in heaven who are making the world sinful, against whom we have to fight. These spirits/angels are thought to be super-human in power.


1. Angels are not mentioned here.

2. This passage lists various things against which the Christian fights – it does not say that those things are trying to enter men and make them sin.

3. The world is under God’s control, not that of evil beings in heaven (Dan. 4: 32). “All power” in heaven and in earth has been given to Jesus (Matt. 28:18) by God (Rev. 3:21; Lk. 22:29), so it cannot also be possessed by wicked beings in heaven.

4. We have seen that there can be no sinful being in heaven itself (Ps. 5: 4 & 5; Hab. 1:13; Matt. 6:10).

5. Verse 12 may be translated, “For we wrestle not only against flesh and blood…” i.e., we do not only wrestle against individual men, but against organized systems.

6. There is much figurative language in vs. 11-17 – the armour of the Christian is figurative, as is the wrestling, seeing that “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men” (2 Tim. 2:24); v. 12 should be similarly interpreted.

7. If the “Devil” was cast out of heaven in Eden, how could he and his followers still have been in the literal heavens in Paul’s time?

Suggested Explanations

1. The context is set in v. 13. The preparation was to be because the church was facing “the evil day”. This refers to a period of especial persecution of the church, which was to come at the hands of the Romans, seeing they were the only people with enough power to create an “evil day” for the Christian church at the time Paul was writing. (1 Pet. 4:12; 5: 8-9). The wrestling was against “the rulers of this dark world”, who at the time were the Romans. Note that the wrestling is spiritual wrestling to keep the faith (2 Cor. 10: 3-5). This time of evil had already begun as Paul was writing (Eph. 5:16)- “the days are evil’.

2. “Principalities” is translated “magistrate” in Luke 12:11; human “rule”, in the sense of human government, in 1 Corinthians 15:24, and the “power” of the Roman governor in Luke 20:20. So it does not necessarily have reference to any power or prince in heaven.

3. “Powers” is translated as the “authority” of the Roman governor in Luke 20:20, and regarding one having “authority” in Matthew 7:29. We must “be subject to principalities and powers” (Titus 3:1) in the sense of earthly governments, insofar as they do not ask us to do things which are contrary to the Law of God (Acts 5:29; 4:19; Matt. 19:17). If “principalities and powers” are evil beings in heaven whom we must resist, why are we told to be subject to them? If we accept that they refer to human governors and authorities, then this is easily understandable.

4. “Wicked spirituals in high (heavenly) places”. We have shown that this cannot refer to wicked beings in heaven itself. The exalted position of the true believers in Christ is described as being “in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 2:6). “Spirituals” can be used to describe those in the church who had the gift of the spirit; having given a list of commands as to how the gifts of the spirit should be used, Paul concludes: “If any man (in the church) think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual (i.e. spiritually gifted, see N.I.V.), let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). 1 Corinthians 14 shows there was a big problem in the church of believers misusing the spirit gifts. Hebrews 6: 4-6 describes some Jewish Christians in the first century who had the gift of the spirit, but who were leading the church away from true Christianity by their attitude. These would be a prime example of wicked spirituals in the heavenlies (i.e. in the church). The temple and ark are sometimes referred to as the heavens (2 Sam. 15:25, cp. 1 Kgs. 8: 30; 2 Chron. 30:27; Ps. 20: 2 & 6; 11: 4; Heb. 7:26). The church is the new temple. In the same way as wicked people could be in the temple, so, too, they could be in the heavenlies of the church. Possession of the Spirit did not mean that someone was necessarily acceptable in God’s sight, e.g. Saul possessed it for a time(1 Sam. 10:10) as did the judges of Israel (Num. 11:17) although they were not righteous; they did not believe the report of Joshua and Caleb and therefore were condemned to die like the other Israelites, despite their having the Spirit – Psalm 82:1-7 says as much. For a period the churches of Revelation 2 and 3 possessed the gifts despite their errors, until eventually their candlestick was removed (cp. Acts 20: 28-29; Eph. 4:11; Rev. 2:5). Thus the wicked spirits in the heavenlies were apostate Christians within the church, leading the church into an “evil day” of temptation.

5. Thus the threat to the church was twofold: from the Roman/Jewish persecution and from the (often Judaist) “false apostles” (2 Cor. 11:13) within. Remember Ephesians 6:11-13 was written to the church at Ephesus. Paul had previously warned them about this threat from within: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).

Rotherham’s translation brings this out well:

Our struggle is against the principalities against the authorities against the world – rulers of this darkness, AND against spiritual wickedness in heavenlies”.

6. Thus, all these things are “the wiles of the Devil” (v. 11) in the sense of the evil desires of the flesh expressed through the system of world government and apostate Christians.

7. “Heavenly places” may also refer to positions of authority in the secular world. Thus the king of Babylon was a figurative “star” in heaven (Is. 14:12), i.e. a great ruler. Jesus is the “sun” (Mal. 4:2), the saints are the “stars” (Dan. 12:3) of the future order. The present “heavens” of man will be replaced by the new Heavens when the Kingdom is established on the earth (2 Pet. 3:13), i.e. the positions of power and rulership, now in the hands of sinful men, will be handed over to the true Christians. The saints of the Most High shall possess the kingdoms of men (Dan. 7:27). Thus wicked spirits in the “heavens” could refer to men of wicked minds in places of power in the world who were persecuting the Christians.

8. It is just possible to still interpret “the Devil” in v. 11, as having a certain degree of reference to the “Jewish Satan”. The “Heavenly places” of v. 12 may refer to the Jewish heavenlies; 2 Peter 3 and Deuteronomy 32:1 speak of the Jewish heavens. This is strengthened by the fact that the “sun, moon and stars” are sometimes figurative of the Jews ( e.g. Genesis 22:17; 37: 9; Dan. 8: 9, 10, 24). We have shown that the wicked spirituals may have reference to the Jewish Christians who were spirit-gifted, but turned to apostasy. They would thus be in both the Christian and Jewish “heavenlies”. The threat from within the church posed by the Judaizers infiltrating the church (see “Suggested Explanation” – all points – of 2 Cor. 11:13-15), who were Jews. In “Suggested Explanation” No. 2 of 1 Timothy 5: 14-15, it is shown that the “seducing spirits” (spirituals) of 1 Timothy 4:1 were Jewish false teachers. Thus “the Devil” was manifested in the Roman authorities and the Jews within the Christian church.

The “wiles of the Devil” offers support to the Jewish context in that one of its few other occurrences the word for “wiles” is translated “to lie in wait to deceive”, in a verse which talks about the Judaizers subtly trying to introduce false doctrine into the church: the church was being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14). If the “heavenly places” also represent the Jewish system, further meaning is given to Ephesians 3: 3-10: “The mystery…that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs (with the Jews), and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the Gospel…to make all men (both Jews and Gentiles) see what is the fellowship of the mystery…to the intent now that unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God”, i.e. that by the church showing the unity that existed between Jew and Gentile within it, the Jewish leaders (“principalities and powers in heavenlies”) might come to appreciate “the manifold wisdom of God”. This, in turn, opens up John 17:21, “That they all (Jews and Gentiles) may be one…that the world (this phrase almost always means the Jewish world in John’s Gospel) may believe that thou hast sent me”.

The “evil day” of v. 13 would be a result of the Judaizers, who were “evil men and seducers” (2 Tim. 3:13). For the links between 2 Timothy 3 and the Judaizers, see notes on 2 Timothy 2:26 ; between them and “seducers”, see “Suggested Explanation” No. 2 of 1 Timothy 5:14.

Another Approach

David Pitt-Francis expounded the view that many of the later New Testament documents are full commentary upon and critical allusion to popular ideas of false religion which were circulating at the time. His commentary on Ephesians 6 bears quoting at more length (1):

“The object of the Christian message was to shake such imagined deities out of their places, so that men would give real glory to Christ, and to the God of Heaven alone. Paul describes the conflict of Christian witness as a struggle, not against flesh and blood but… “against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness; against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”. To many unacquainted with the real impact of the gospel, both sun and moon seemed to have personal­ities which they did not possess, as did the stars of heaven, heaven itself, and those exalted parts of nature such as mountains and islands. Thus Isaiah 2, which contains primarily a prophecy against idolatry in Israel and describes idol-worship in the context of ‘high mountains’ and ‘lofty hills’ contains a description of the flight of men into caves and holes of the rocks from the terror of God, and this description is borrowed in Revelation . The end of the worship of sun, moon and stars is also foretold by Isaiah in a later passage, where the imagined gods of heaven are described as being punished: “On that day, the Lord will punish the host of heaven, in heaven – and the kings of the earth, on earth – they will be gathered together as prisoners in a pit… … then the moon will be ashamed, and the sun confounded for the Lord of hosts will reign.” Here the host of heaven cannot represent the kings of the earth, who are separately described in this passage. The kings imprison themselves in a pit, just like those of chapter 2 who enter the caves and holes of the earth and the chief men of the sixth seal. The effect of Christian testimony would be the downfall of the imagined gods of the ancient world who were all associated with the exalted things of nature. In a Graeco-Roman context, for example the sun would have been associated with Apollo, the moon with Artemis, the stars with many deities and heaven itself with Uranus. Mountains and islands were not only objects of worship, but often places of worship (compare the ‘high place’ worship of apostate Israel). Yet the Graeco-Roman context is a partial and deceptive one, and has resulted in a restricted and partial understanding of the proph­ecy. The interpretation is the obvious one, and yet the most neglected one. In the Old Testament, the words ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ occur frequently as the objects of false worship. The phrase ‘host of hea­ven’ (i. e. the stars) is similarly used. The teach­ing that those things that are exalted in nature represented the gods that were then thought to exist, against whom Christianity made its on­slaughts was plainly accepted by the early Church in its reading of passages such as: ‘every mountain and hill shall be made low’ (60) – to prepare a highway for the progress of the Gospel. There are not, nor have there ever been ‘spirit­ual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places’ in the sense in which the phrase may primarily have been understood by converted pagans, but the adoration of sun, moon and stars has dominated the religious cults of every nation under heaven, and every kind of evil has been associated with it. The Old Testa­ment prophecies, such as those quoted from Isaiah, were taken to mean that the gods would lose their power, because of Christian testimony, for the bulk of people in the days of Isaiah and of John would have regarded sun, moon and stars as personalities in their own right, whether they worshipped them or not. Every nation worshipped its sun-god and moon-god. The light of sun and moon was equated by many with the supreme light of God Himself. The perverted worship of all nations was directed to the host of heaven, and Isaiah, in the passages quoted foresaw the time when the host of heaven would be ‘ashamed’ by the supreme light of Divine Truth. It would have been tedious in Revelation to have named specifically the deities of Greece and Rome, far less those of all other nations. The names of the sun-god, Apollo, Ra, Amon, Baal, Bel-Marduk…. would have alone formed quite a catalogue. Add the names of the moon-god, the host of heaven, the sky, island – and mountain-gods and the list would have been impossibly long. Further, this chapter does not, as does Isaiah, mention those associated with oaks and trees, but only the exalted obstacles to the progress of the Gospel, those in the sky, and those that project towards the sky. Jesus’ words are even more concise, for He says that the ‘powers of heaven’ will be shaken. These powers are not natural phenomena (e. g. the ‘order’ or ‘course’ of nature). In its original context the word meant forces or armies. It is inconceivable that angelic armies should be shaken, hence the word must, using the language of Ephesians, mean those imaginary forces reputed to exist in the heavens, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places. This collection of ‘powers’ was the pantheistic ragbag of Greece, Rome, Egypt, Babylon and the other ancient nations. These powers would lose their con­trol over peoples’ minds because of the boldness of the Church in its preaching. They would make way for the Lamb of God to occupy heaven, and much later human scientific knowledge would reveal them to be no more than sterile masses of matter. Thus, the ‘principalities and powers’, the ‘powers of heaven’, ‘the host of heaven’ would soon lose their influence. Shortly, Clement of Alexandria would be derisory in his ‘Exhortation to the Gentiles’ about the apparent impotence of those gods, who had once seemed to be so active”.


(1) David Pitt-Francis, The Most Amazing Message Ever Written (Irchester: Mark Saunders Books, 1984) chapter 4.

5-26 The Snare Of The Devil

1 Timothy 3: 6 -7: “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the Devil”.

Popular Interpretation

This is used to suggest that the Devil is a person constantly hunting souls.


1. The word “soul” does not occur here.

2. Because the Word can overcome the Devil (our evil desires) as we see from Jesus’ wilderness temptations, we must have it in our hearts (Ps. 119:11); it is when one is inexperienced in the Word that they fall to the Devil – in this verse, pride, the “Devil” or the evil desires of the human mind taking over.

3. The idea of the Devil consciously trying to catch people in v. 7 has to be read into this verse. By contrast it is stressed that he (the bishop, vs. 1 & 2) may “fall” into the snare of the Devil.

4. The “snare of the Devil” is defined in 1 Timothy 6: 9: “they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare…into many foolish and hurtful lusts”. Thus the snare of the Devil is the temptation that comes from our lusts, which is exactly what James 1:13-15 says.

Suggested Explanations

1. “The condemnation of the Devil” is that brought about by the Devil. At the judgment it would be unfair for us to be condemned personally for how the Devil, in the sense of an external being, had used us. But we will be condemned on account of letting the Devil – our evil desires – go unchecked, e.g. “by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:37). The Lord taught that He is a Saviour, and He came more to save than condemn. And yet some will sadly be condemned. Why? By whom? They will have condemned themselves by their own sinful behaviour. They will have been condemned by “the Devil”.

2. We have commented earlier how the Word is the power by which we overcome the Devil: “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:11). The Hebrew word for “hid” means to lay a snare for, as if the evil thoughts enter our consciousness, but are snared by the Word. Thus the language of the Devil’s victory over men is also used of man’s spiritual victory over the Devil. Other examples include the following:

– Men “fall away” because of losing their hold on the Word (Lk. 8:13). The Devil “departed” – same word translated “fall away’ – from Christ because He held on to the word in His mind (Lk. 4:13). We are captured either in the Devil’s victory procession (2 Tim. 2:26) or Christ’s (Eph. 4: 8 N.I.V.).

– 2 Timothy 2:26 A.V. margin says that men are taken alive by the Devil at his will, but men are caught alive by the Word of the Gospel (Lk. 5:10). Thus the exhortation comes home again of the great profit of Bible study and that through it we can conquer the Devil and become “wise as serpents” (Matt. 10:16).

– We have seen in “The tempter came to him” in our consideration of the wilderness temptations that our evil desires are described as coming to us. Yet this same language of physical movement is used about the Word of God coming to the prophets, and Christ coming to us through the preaching of the Word (Eph. 2: 17).

3. “Reproach and the snare of the Devil” may refer to the Jewish Satan/Devil being quick to pick up any shadow that hung over a Christian leader to discredit Christianity – they would bring reproach on Christianity if the bishop had a bad “report of them which are without”. Examples of the Jews and Judaizers using these tactics are in 1 Peter 2:12; 3:16; 2 Peter 2:10 (the “dignities” may be similar to the “bishops” of 1 Tim. 3); 1 Timothy 5:14; 2 Corinthians 10:10; Acts 21: 28-29.

A novice might “fall into the condemnation of the (Jewish) Devil” by not being mature enough to resist the inroads of the Judaizers as they tried to “subvert whole houses” (Titus 1:11) – i.e. house churches – probably by subverting the bishops or leaders of the churches first.

2 Timothy 2:26: “And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the Devil, who are taken captive by him at his will”.

Popular Interpretation

This is thought to mean that the Devil is actively capturing people to make them sinful “at his will” – whenever he desires.


1. If the Devil literally captures anyone he desires, then there is nothing we can do to stop him. The Word of God is not powerful enough to stop him in this case.

2. “Recover” really means “awake”. It is through Christians being spiritually sleepy that they are captured by the Devil; thus ultimately it is their fault.

3. “Taken captive” means to catch alive, as fish are caught (it is translated “catch” in Lk. 5:10). The Devil catches people by his snare. We have defined this “snare of the Devil” in the notes on 1 Timothy 3: 7, Comment No. 5, as the evil desires of man.

4. Knowing the Truth (i.e. the Word of God – Jn. 17:17) and receiving teaching and instruction (which ultimately only comes from the Word) are the means of awaking out of the snare of the Devil here (2 Tim. 2:24-26). The Word of God overcomes our evil desires (Ps. 119:11; cp. Jesus in the wilderness); here, the Word of God overcomes the snare of the Devil, which is, therefore, our evil desires. It is therefore implied that through lack of attention to the Word, these people had been ensnared by the Devil. Thus being ensnared is not due to an evil being just deciding to make someone sin, but of that person’s lack of attention to the Word.

5. The word “will” means the “desires”. Most times when it is not used about the will of God and of Jesus, it is used about the evil “will” or desires within man:

– Peter defines “the will of the Gentiles” as walking in “lusts” and fleshly behaviour (1 Pet. 4: 3). In the previous verse he contrasts the will of God and the lust of men, implying that the lusts of men are the will of men;

– See, too, 2 Peter 1:21; 1 Corinthians 7: 37; Luke 23:25.

The will of the Devil here in 2 Timothy 2:26 therefore refers to the evil lusts within our nature, which will ensnare us if we neglect the Word of God.

Suggested Explanations

1. Apart from the Devil referring to our evil desires here, it may also apply to the Jewish Devil taking people alive (v. 26 A.V. margin) in the sense of subverting them to remain within the church in order to undermine Christianity. The “snare of the Devil” of 1 Timothy 3: 7 is interpreted that way in the “Suggested Explanations” under that heading.

2. The context in 2 Timothy 2 seems to be about the Judaizers within the ecclesia, which would support what is suggested in 1 above.

3. “Profane and vain babblings…foolish and unlearned questions…that…gender strifes” (vs. 16 & 23) – these sound like the Jewish fables and genealogies which minister questions of which Paul had previously warned Timothy (1 Tim. 1: 4; Titus 1:14).

4. “Repentance…that they may recover themselves” (vs.25 & 26) implies that the people referred to had once believed the Truth.

5. These people are described as “vessels…to dishonour” in v. 20. This very same expression is used in Romans 9: 21-25 concerning the Jews after they had rejected the Truth as it is in Christ.

6. “Concerning the truth (they) have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already” (v. 18). This de-emphasizing of the future Kingdom on the earth is very necessary in Judaist theology. To them their reward is to live acceptably before God in this life.

7. They “overthrow the faith of some” (v. 18). “Overthrow” is the same word translated “subvert”. Nearly every other time it occurs it is in the context of the Judaizers subverting the Christians – Titus 1:11; 3:9-11 (an equivalent word); Acts 15:24 (the Judaizers “subvert your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law”).

8. Note that we are to catch men in our preaching of the Gospel. Yet Paul uses the same figure here to describe what the Devil does. Men are caught by one thing or the other- the Devil, or our preaching of Christ.

5-27 Turned Aside After Satan

1 Timothy 5:14-15: “I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some are already turned aside after Satan”.

Popular Interpretation

This is taken to mean that young widows are likely to be carried away by Satan because of having spare time on their hands.


1. The widows turn themselves aside after Satan – Satan is not necessarily seeking the women.

2. Verses 12 and 13 explain that the widows “cast off their first faith” – something they did themselves. “They learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house”. It was by their doing this that they “turned aside after Satan’ – their evil desires.

3. Using the tongue in the wrong way is a result of an evil state of the heart – “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34). Their turning aside after Satan involved being “tattlers…and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (v. 13). Thus “Satan” refers to their evil heart.

4. Through profitless talking and not keeping hold of the true spirit of the Word of God, some at the Ephesus ecclesia where Timothy was based had “turned aside unto vain jangling” (1 Tim. 1: 6). Paul is now pointing out that some of the young widows in that ecclesia had also turned aside for the same reason “unto Satan”, or their evil desires, expressed in their idle talking.

5. The phrase “already turned” means “immediately”; Paul is saying that as soon as their husbands die, the young widows immediately go aside after Satan, their evil desires, therefore it is better for them to remarry.

6. “The adversary” is not the same word as “Satan”, although it may still refer to the Jews seeking opportunity to criticize the Christians (see note on 1 Tim. 3:6-7 “Suggested Explanations” No. 3). It can mean “an adversary at law” in a legal sense, implying that the Jews could get them in trouble at a Roman court.

Suggested Explanations

1. By publicly getting a bad name for “wandering about from house to house” (v. 13), these women were giving opportunity to the Jewish adversaries to “rail against” (A.V.margin) the Christians. Jude 9 & 10 implies that the Judaizers brought “railing accusation” against the Christians.

2. “Speaking things which they ought not” (v. 13), recalls Jude v. 10 about the Judaizers: “these speak evil of those things which they know not”. “Wandering” connects with Jude’s description of “wandering stars” (Jude v. 13). Diotrephes, one of the Judaizers who was trying to discredit the apostle John and the other apostles, (as the Judaizers did to Paul) is described as “prating against us with malicious words” (3 Jn. v.10). “Prating” is from the same word translated “tattlers” in 1 Timothy 5:13 concerning these women. The women going from house to house may imply from church to church, as that is how the word “house” is often used in the New Testament (due to the many house churches then in existence). This is what the Jewish false teachers did; 2 John v. 7 talks about deceivers or seducers that had entered into the Christian world, i.e. the false brethren “unawares brought in” to the church of Galatia. There are many references to these “seducing spirits” (1 Tim. 4:1) – i.e. false teachers (1 Jn. 4:1) – within the church, to which the church was not to give “heed” (1 Tim. 4:1). That these were Jewish false teachers is suggested by other references to “giving heed” in the context of being watchful against Jewish infiltration of Christianity:

– “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Mk. 8:15);

– “Not giving heed to Jewish fables” (Titus 1:14);

– “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies’ (1 Tim.1:4) – the source of which genealogies was probably the Old Testament, over which the Judaizers were encouraging the Christians to argue to no profit.

The “seducing spirits” of 1 Timothy 4:1 had seared consciences (v.2), implying that they were apostate believers. They forbad to marry, “commanding to abstain from meats” (v. 3), which especially the latter, was the big contention of the Jewish element in the church in the first century. Notice that what is said here about the Judaizers is also true of the Catholics – supporting the idea that 2 Thessalonians 2 is about both Jews and Catholics.

Thus the “seducing spirits” of 1 Timothy 4:1 were the Jewish infiltrators of the church, which were doubtless amongst the “deceivers” of 2 John v.7, which 2 John v. 10 implies were going from house to house (church to church) spreading their doctrine of belittling the person of Christ. These Judaizers “subvert whole houses” (Titus 1:11). Back in 1 Timothy 5:13, the fact that the women also went from house to house is another indication that what they were doing was also what the Judaizers were doing. Thus it is an interesting possibility that when their husbands died, these women lacked spiritual leadership, and therefore turned aside after the Jewish Satan, being influenced by the Jews to undermine the church. Using such apparently innocent members of the church would have been a very effective way of infiltrating. Perhaps there is a reference to this in 2 Timothy 3. This speaks of men within the ecclesia, “having a form of Godliness, but denying the power thereof” (v. 5), unsound judgment in ecclesial decisions (v. 8 A.V. margin). “Their folly shall be manifest unto all men” (v. 9) – at the Judgment, where the responsible appear. They are likened to Jannes and Jambres, who, according to Jewish tradition, were apostate Jews. These false teachers (probably Judaizers), “creep into (i.e. subtly infiltrate) houses (churches), and lead captive silly women” (v. 6). Note how the Judaizers are described as capturing Christians to become infiltrators in 2 Timothy 2:26 and in 1 Timothy 3:7. This view of the women is confirmed by the following two points:

i) Acts 13:50 describes the Jews stirring up “the devout and honourable women and (thereby) …raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas”.

ii) There is evidence in profane history that many Gentile women were influenced by the Jews. Thus Josephus ( ‘Wars of the Jew’, II, 20.2) says that when the Jews of Damascus were persecuted, the proselyte wives of the Gentiles living there were also attacked. Josephus describes the Gentile wives of the men of Damascus as “almost all of them addicted to the Jewish religion”. William Barclay says that during the first century “the Jewish religion had a special attraction for a women…round the synagogues were gathered many women, often women of high social position, who found in this (Jewish) teaching just what they so much longed for. Many of these women became proselytes” (1). That the women Paul refers to were also wealthy is shown by them having time to go round from house to house, instead of having to work.


(1) William Barclay, The Acts Of The Apostles (Louisville: Westminster / John Knox, 2003) p. 114.

5-28 Resist The Devil

James 4: 7: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you”.

1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”.

Popular Interpretation

These verses are taken to mean that the Devil is a monster, like a lion, actively choosing people to devour, against whom the Christian has to be on guard.


1. The Devil is like a roaring lion. Those who believe the Devil is a monster insist on reading verses like this literally. In this case they have a problem. seeing that the Devil is described as being like a snake and a dragon in Revelation 12: 9; a lion in 1 Peter 5:8; and a man in John 6: 70. If all of these are taken literally, it is unclear as to who or what the Devil really is.

2. Sin comes from within us (Jer. 17: 9; James 1:14-15). There is nothing outside of us that can enter us and cause us to sin (Mk. 7: 21-23). In the face of these clear statements, the passage under consideration cannot prove that there is a person who enters us and makes us sin, seeing that the Bible does not contradict itself.

3. If the Devil can literally walk about, roaring like a lion, why has no one seen or heard him?

4. How can human vigilance and resistance lead to the Devil fleeing from us, seeing he is supposed to have super-human powers? Either we are to take the Devil as a literal lion-like beast, or we must interpret this passage figuratively. The language of standing firm, in faith, is inappropriate for a battle against a literal lion. James 4 says that the Devil will flee from us if we stand firm. A literal lion will not flee just because the man s/he is hunting stands still. Once we understand the Devil here as some reference to spiritual evil, then the language of faith and holding in where we are takes on so much more meaning.

5. The Devil is said to “devour” people here; 2 Timothy 2:26 (A.V. margin) says that he captures them alive, and leads them after him (so the Greek of 1 Tim. 5:15 implies). Thus the devouring cannot be a literal death. When a roaring lion devours a man, it literally kills and consumes him. Seeing that the devouring is not literal, neither is the lion. ‘Devouring’ is part of the same figure as ‘going about’. The ‘movement’ of the Devil is therefore also figurative.

6. Lion-like characteristics have been applied to people (e.g. Ps. 22:12 & 13, concerning the Jews who crucified Christ; Ps. 57: 4; Prov. 28:15). Paul, in describing the success of his first appeal against the accusations he was being tried for, says he was, “delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tim. 4:17), i.e. from the Roman court, whom he is likening to a lion. The Devil, like a lion seeking whom he may devour, may therefore refer to the Romans and Jews between them, seeking opportunity to condemn the Christians in court, hence Paul’s warnings regarding the Christian way of life in order not to give this Devil the chance of bringing them to court (2 Cor. 2:11; 1 Tim. 5:14-15; 3: 6-7; 2 Tim. 2:26; 2 Cor. 11:12).

There may be a parallel between 2 Timothy 4:17 regarding Paul being “delivered out of the mouth of the lion” and 2 Timothy 3: 11-13, where, concerning the persecutions the Jews brought upon him, Paul could say “out of them all the Lord delivered me…(from) evil men and seducers” (the Jewish false teachers – see “Suggested Explanations” No. 2 of 1 Tim. 5: 14-15).

Thus again it is possible to interpret the Devil, and in this case also the lion, on two levels:

– our evil desires and

– those evil desires manifested in the Roman and Jewish systems.

Suggested Explanations

James 4: 7

1. The preceding verses define the Devil in terms of our evil desires – “the spirit that dwelleth in us (naturally) lusteth to envy…God resisteth the proud” (vs. 5-6).

2. If we are proud, we are giving way to our evil desires (Gal. 5: 19; Mk. 7: 21-23); we are of the Devil. We are of impure hearts (James 4: 8). As we are not resisting the Devil, it will come nearer to us in that those evil desires will become stronger. But if we submit to God “draw nigh to God” – “He will draw nigh to you” (v. 8); if we are humble (v. 6) and single-minded in our commitment to resisting the Devil (v. 8), i.e. by having only the Word in our minds, then the Devil will flee from us. From personal experience we must all be aware that if we consciously resist our evil desires (the Devil), then they will decrease – they will flee away.

3. Ephesians 4: 27 says the same – “neither give place to the Devil” (see notes on that verse).

4. “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners” (James 4:7-8). This conjures up the picture of a man moving towards God, and God moving towards him. The closer he gets to God the further the Devil flees in the opposite direction.

Thus the more spiritual effort we make to move towards God, the wider the gap will be between us and the Devil. Note, too, how James implies that this coming to God is through repentance – “cleanse your hands”. This recalls Luke 15:20, where the father of the repentant prodigal son (i.e. God) comes out to meet him – He draws nigh to him as he draws nigh to Him. The cleansing of hands and purifying of hearts spoken of in v. 8 by which the Devil is overcome is by “the washing of water by the Word” (Eph. 5: 26) and by sanctifying by the Word (Jn. 17:17). Thus the Word overcomes the Devil, i.e. our evil minds, as we have seen so often; the Word affects our minds.

5. Resisting the Devil would result in it fleeing. Thus there is a parallelism between resisting and fleeing – the Christians were to flee from the Devil to escape it and resist it. Christ told the Christians to flee from the Jewish Devil both in its active persecution of them and subtly trying to mislead them doctrinally, Matthew 10:23 (example Acts 13:50-51; also Jn.10: 5). He warned them to flee from the Roman Devil in Matthew 24:16.

6. The Christians resisted the Jewish Devil in Acts 6:10 – “they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which (Stephen) spake”. Luke 21: 12 & 15 shows that they would resist both Jewish and Roman Devils: “They shall lay their hands on you…delivering you up to the synagogues (the Jewish Devil) and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers (the Roman Devil)…I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries (both Jewish and Roman) shall not be able to gainsay nor resist”.

We have suggested that Ephesians 6:11-13 is relevant to both the Jewish and Roman systems creating an “evil day” of persecution for the church. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand (same word translated “resist”) in the evil day” (Eph. 6:13), i.e. the church would be able to resist, or wrestle, against the Jewish and Roman systems successfully (in ultimate terms, at least).

1 Peter 5: 8

1. The greatest adversary we have is that of our own evil desires.

2. 1 Peter 5: 5-10 has many points of contact with James 4: 7-9; the following are some of the similarities between these two letters:

James 4: 6-11

1 Peter 5: 5-9

Submit yourselves therefore…”

Submit yourselves…”

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you.”

Speak not evil one of another.”

…be subject one to another…”

God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble.”

…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”

Resist the Devil.”

…the Devil…whom resist…”

Thus the Devil as defined in James 4: 7 is the same as that referred to in 1 Peter 5: 8, i.e. our evil desires and also the Roman and Jewish systems.

3. In the context of 1 Peter 5, Peter has been warning the Christians to be of a “ready mind” (v. 2), to have a humble mind (v. 5), to have an attitude of mind not too taken up with the cares of the present life (v. 7). This is to be equated with his warning in v. 8 about the Devil, i.e. against a proud and wrong attitude of mind. Thus again we see that the Devil can refer to the evil heart within man. Therefore v. 9 comforts them that all believers throughout the (Roman) world were experiencing the same problems – all believers everywhere are afflicted by the Devil of our evil desires, and this can be a comforting thought when we feel that we are being especially tempted.

4. The resisting of the Devil was by being steadfast in the faith, i.e. the “one faith” comprised of the doctrines taught by God’s Word (Eph. 4: 4-6). Thus the Word could overcome this Devil. The Word also overcoming evil desires of the mind, we can conclude that the Devil here can refer to them. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 Jn. 5: 4), thus equating the “world” with the “Devil”. “The world” is defined in 1 John 2:16 as the lusts of our flesh and eyes.

5. That the Devil whom the Christians had to resist was also the Roman and Jewish systems has been shown in our exposition of James 4: 7. Note how the lion represents wicked rulers in Prov. 19:12; 20:2; 28:15; Zeph. 3:3; Ez. 22:25. Paul refers to his persecution at the hands of the Romans as being as it were facing the mouth of a lion (2 Tim. 4:17).

6. 1 Peter 5: 9 “The same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world”. “The world” often refers to the Roman world – throughout the empire of the Roman Devil, the Christians were being persecuted (especially under the Emperors Nero and Diocletian). We have earlier commented on the connection between the Devil and the Roman authorities, and the “seeking” of opportunity to disgrace the Christians by both Jewish and Roman systems (remember how the Jews sought to trap Jesus in His words, Lk. 11:54, and the Judaizers sought “a proof of Christ” speaking in Paul, 2 Cor. 13: 3).

7. Members of the Jewish Satan are described as walking about, as the Devil is said to do in 1 Peter 5: 8 (e.g. Jn. 12:35 and context; Rom. 14:15; 2 Cor. 4:2).

8. There must be some allusion in this passage to Ezekiel 22:25: “There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof”. This refers to a group of apostate Jews in Jerusalem bent on spiritually ruining the nation, although giving an appearance of righteousness. They would exactly mirror the Jewish Judaizer Devil of the first century as roaring lion. Notice that they wanted to take her “precious things’. Is it just coincidence that “precious” occurs seven times in Peter’s letters to describe the precious things of the Christian faith – which the Judaizer Devil was trying to destroy? It occurs only ten other times in the whole of the New Testament.

9. The word “adversary” in the passage can mean an “adversary at law”, and would therefore be in a context of the oppression of the Christian in the courts by the Roman legal system, or Devil. The whole theme of Peter is to warn Christians of the coming period of persecution at the hands of the Roman/ Jewish Devil (1 Pet. 5: 9; 4:12, 16-19).

10. The Greek word translated “adversary” here is not the same one rendered ‘Satan’. It occurs in Luke 12: 58: “When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate (in time of persecution,v.53), as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison”. This parallels Matthew 5:25: “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison”. The adversary here is “thy brother” (Mt. 5: 24). Connecting these verses together, it appears from Matthew 5: 25 and Luke 12:58 that the adversary who would persecute the believers would be from among their own brethren. But the adversary is defined in 1 Peter 5: 8 as being like a lion, an ‘adversary at law’. This would suggest that the external persecution from the Roman and Jewish authorities was associated with the brethren within the ecclesia acting in collusion with them, which exactly fits into place if we understand the ‘Devil’ of 1 Peter 5: 8, that was seeking whom he could devour, as the Judaist members of the ecclesia searching for every opportunity to bring the believers within the clutches of the Roman or Jewish authorities.

5-29 Chains Of Darkness

2 Peter 2: 4: “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment…”

Jude 6: “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day”.

Popular Interpretation

This is taken as proof that angels sinned in Eden and still await punishment.


1. We have shown in section 2-1 that Angels in the sense of super-human beings cannot sin. The Bible cannot contradict itself.

2. If literal angels are referred to here, then they are not going round making people sin, seeing that they are kept safely chained up. They are “under darkness”, i.e. not openly on the earth nor in heaven.

3. The context of Jude 5 implies that Jude 6 is a reference to a well known fact, “I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this”. There is no record in any other part of the Bible about angels sinning in Eden; how then could these Christians be reminded of these things? All the other examples which Jude mentions are taken from Old Testament examples which were well known, and v. 6 is no exception.

4. There is no indication that these things happened in Eden. There is no mention of the angels starting to cause trouble after they sinned – the implication in v. 6 is that they were immediately chained up under darkness. At the creation “all the sons of God (the angels) shouted for joy” (Job 38: 7) and they saw “everything…was very good” (Gen. 1:31); there was no evil whatever.

5. We have seen in section 2-1 that “angels” can refer to men.

6. These “angels” are to be judged at “the great day” of the second coming. The punishment of the unworthy at that day will be total destruction (Matt. 25: 41); yet we know that angels cannot die or be destroyed (Lk. 20: 35-36). An angel walked with Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3: 27-28). We read of the angel that appeared to Manoah, “when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar” ( Jud. 13:20). God “maketh his angels spirits: his ministers a flaming fire” (Ps. 104: 4). Therefore these “angels” who are to be condemned must be human ones, because fire cannot destroy angels.

7. Jude 7 says that Sodom and Gomorrah also (“even as”) “are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (i.e. total destruction after judgment – Matt. 25:41). This implies that the angels that sinned were made a public example (as was Sodom) of what would happen to those who disobey God. However, there is no Biblical record of angels sinning in Eden – so how are these “angels” of v. 6 “set forth for an example”? There is no indication that even Adam and Eve saw the punishment of anyone. Remember that sin entered the world “by one man” – Adam (Rom. 5:12) – not by an angel sinning.

8. Notice that the words “devil” and “satan” do not occur in these passages.

9. 2 Peter 2: 9-11 interprets the reserving of the angels unto judgment as, “The Lord knoweth how…to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished…them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government…speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels…bring not railing accusations”. This is saying that the counterparts of the sinful angels are the unjust men who follow their human lusts. That these men are not angels is shown by the fact that they speak evil of people, whereas angels do not. Peter does not say “the good angels do not”, just, “angels”, all of whom are good beings.

10. “Chains of darkness” represent death in Proverbs 5:22-23 (“cords” in v. 22 is rendered “chains” in the Septuagint). Thus the angels are now dead. They are “reserved” unto the day of judgment. “Reserved” does not mean (in the Greek) “”kept prisoner”, it implies rather that God has made a note of these people, and will give them their judgment accordingly, at the second coming of Christ.

11. 2 Peter 2:1 sets the context for v. 4, “But there were false prophets also among the people (of Israel, in the wilderness, cp. Jude v. 5), even as there shall be false teachers among you”. Thus the angels that sinned appear to refer to false teachers amongst Israel in the wilderness. That God “spared not” the sinful ‘angels’ connects with how God “spared not” the sinful Israelites in the wilderness (Ps. 78:50). Indeed, the idea of God not sparing is often associated with His attitude to apostate Israel: Dt. 29:20; Jer. 13:14; 21:7; Ez. 7:4,9; 8:18; 9:10. The angels “reserved unto judgment” matches how the Jewish world was “reserved unto judgment” in AD70 (2 Pet. 3:7).

12. The immediate context is in 2 Peter 2:3 – the Judaizers were about to be suddenly punished (in the holocaust of A.D. 70) – “whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not”. Peter then reasons that as God immediately punished the angels that sinned, so the judgment and damnation of the Judaizers would not be long delayed.

If the angels were super-human beings who still have the liberty to go about tempting us to sin, and have had such liberty since the garden of Eden 6,000 years ago, then their day of judgment has lingered, it has been a long time coming, and therefore Peter’s use of the angels that sinned as an example of God quickly punishing sin in v. 4 does not apply. Jude was writing against a background of belief that sinful Angels were roaming the world and inciting people to sin. He surely is attempting to debunk this idea by stressing that “the Angels who kept not their first estate”- whoever we understand them to be- are safely locked up in chains, unable to influence anyone on earth today.

Suggested Explanations

1. We have noted that this incident is probably concerning human “angels” at some point in the history of Israel, probably on the wilderness journey, and that it would be well known and documented in Jewish history (i.e. the Old Testament Scriptures). It also involved a great public punishment of the wrongdoers which set them “forth as an example”. The rebellion of the 250 princes of Israel in the wilderness led by Korah, Dathan and Abiram, as recorded in Numbers 16, seems to fit quite well.

2. “Angel” can mean “minister”, “messenger” (as John’s disciples were messengers or ministers to him , Lk. 7:24). Numbers 16: 9 describes the rebels as “ministers” of the congregation. The Septuagint (the Old Testament in Greek) uses the word aggelos for “ministers”, which is the same Greek word translated “Angel” in 2 Peter 2: 4. They left their first, or original, “principality” (Jude 6, A.V. margin); the rebels were princes, but wanted to be priests as well (Num. 16:2 & 10). Because of this, the ground opened and swallowed them (Num. 16:31-33), as a dramatic example to everyone of the fate of those who rebel against the Word of God. It was especially dramatic in that it is emphasized that this was the first time that such a thing had happened (Num. 16:30). Thus they are now dead, “in everlasting chains under darkness”, in the heart of the earth, to be resurrected and judged at “the judgment of the great day”. Jude v. 8 implies that “likewise” , i.e. like the angels that sinned, the Judaizers “speak evil of dignities”, e.g. Jesus and Paul. The rebels spoke evil of Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:11-14).

Cast them down to hell” (2 Pet. 2:4). “Hell” in this verse is “tartaroo” in the Greek and is used only once in the New Testament. It was used in pagan Greek mythology to describe a subterraneous place of darkness for the dead. “…chains of darkness” (same verse) is rendered “pits of darkness” in the R.V. The word “serius” (pits) indicates an underground granary or prison, which corresponds with Korah, Dathan and Abiram’s destruction when they “went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them; and they perished” (Num. 16:33).

3. That they were destroyed and were not left alive is shown by a comment on this incident in Psalm 73. Here Asaph describes how “my steps had well nigh slipped” (v. 2) because the wicked seemed to be prospering so much. Then, “I went into the sanctuary (tabernacle) of God; then understood I their end” (v. 17). This was because the brass censers of the 250 rebels were melted down after their death and beaten into plates with which the altar was covered – another example of the angels that sinned being publicly “set forth as an example” (Jude v. 7). Asaph would have seen these and reflected on the fate of the wicked men. Thus he reflects upon the rebels, the angels that sinned, “surely thou didst set them in slippery places: Thou castedst them down (by the earth swallowing them) into destruction” (v. 18) – therefore they are not alive, but in the same way as Sodom was destroyed with eternal fire, i.e. totally, so, too, were these “angels” (Jude vs. 6-7).

4. The language of being cast down to the underworld and the darkness of the grave all features in the record of Egypt’s judgment in Ez. 31:16-18. Yet Egypt was not literally cast down from Heaven. The allusion to Egypt is to show how the apostate Jews in the wilderness were treated as if they were actually Egyptians- because in their hearts they turned back to Egypt.

5. We must understand the immediate context in which Peter uses the idea of God having judged ‘angels’ [whoever they refer to]. He reasons that if God didn’t spare ‘angels’ who sinned in the past but judged them; and if God punished sinners by a flood but saved Noah; and if God overthrew the wicked in Sodom but saved Lot… then we can be assured that God knows how to rescue the Godly and to judge the wicked in a future day of judgment (2 Pet. 2:4-9). The example of angels being judged must be seen as a warning and a comfort to us in our day. The implication would surely be that just as the flood and the destruction of Sodom were well known Biblical examples of Divine judgment, so must the judgment of the ‘angels’ be. And therefore the interpretation which associates them with Korah and his rebellion in the wilderness would seem to be most appropriate. And note that there is no Biblical record of rebellious Heavenly angels being judged and thrown down to earth.

5-30 The Body Of Moses

Jude 9: “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee”.

Popular Interpretation

This is quoted in very vague terms, with the implication that the devil must be a personal being, and that this describes an argument between the devil, as an angel, and an archangel.


1. There is no implication that “the devil” here is an angel. Seeing that it is stressed that all the angels are united in doing God’s will and are all obedient to Him (Ps. 103:19-21; 148:2; Heb. 1:14), it is not possible for there to be an argument in heaven between angels.

2. We have shown in the Debate that the phrases “devil” and “satan” can be used about ordinary men.

3. This devil is concerned with the body of Moses not the so-called “immortal soul” of men (which is not Biblical teaching anyway).

4. There are many similarities between Jude and 2 Peter 2. Jude v. 9 has a parallel in 2 Peter 2:11: “Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord”. Peter’s equivalent of “the devil” is “them” – implying that the devil in Jude v. 9 is not an individual, personal being, but a group of people. 2 Peter 2:10-12 clearly indicates that the “them” was a group of men.

5. As with Jude v. 6, this verse is in the context of Jude v. 5 – “I will therefore put you in remembrance”. Jude is therefore reminding them of incidents in Israel’s history from which they should learn lessons. Thus Jude v. 9 must be a reference to an historical incident recorded in Scripture. There is no such incident concerning an angel called the devil arguing with another angel.

6. Michael the Archangel asked God to rebuke, or “forbid”, the devil. If there is a super-human person, power or agency, called the devil causing men to sin and creating trouble, then there is no evidence that he was ever effectively forbidden, seeing that sin and disaster are progressively increasing.

Suggested Explanations

1. The reference to the devil here is incidental. The purpose of the passage is to show that angels speak in a gentle, humble way, even about people they know are in the wrong. They do not show personal vindictiveness, but say, “The LORD rebuke thee”. The Judaizers “speak evil of dignities; Yet Michael…durst not bring against him (the devil) a railing accusation”, i.e. he did not resort to bitter speaking as they did. Similarly Exodus 33:9-11 says that the angel spoke to Moses “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend”, i.e. in a relaxed, friendly way. It should be remembered that it was with this voice that the “fiery law” of Moses was given by the angel, not in a harsh manner, as can be wrongly inferred from some parts of the narrative. Similarly the “still, small voice” that Elijah heard was probably the quiet, unassuming voice of an angel (1 Kgs. 19:12; cp. Job 4:16, also A/V margin).

2. There are so many points of contact between this verse and Zechariah 3 that that chapter must surely provide an historical background to the verse, which would be appreciated by Jude’s readers:

Zechariah 3: 1-2: “And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?”

The most evident similarities are:

Zechariah 3


The angel of the Lord

Michael the archangel


The devil

The Lord rebuke thee

The Lord rebuke thee

A brand plucked out of the fire (vs. 1-2).

Pulling them out of the fire (vs. 9 & 23).

The context in Zechariah 3 was that of the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem from Babylon under Ezra and Nehemiah. They were trying to rebuild the temple and re-establish a system of worship there. However, “the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building” (Ezra 4: 4), i.e. they acted as satan – adversaries – to the Jews. They are actually called “the adversaries of Judah” in Ezra 4:1. They wrote “an accusation against the (new) inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem” to the king of Persia (Ezra 4:6). The Hebrew word for “accusation” is related to that translated “satan”; שטנה. Zechariah 3: 8 clearly tells us that the characters of vs. 1 and 2 are “men of sign” (A.V. margin), i.e. we have to interpret them. So the satans – the adversaries – stood before the angel along with Joshua the High Priest, who “was clothed with filthy garments” (v. 3) – without a mitre on his head (v. 5 implies).

The implication is that the inhabitants of the land, the satan, were complaining to God, manifested in the angel, that the new Jewish high priest was not really valid, as he did not wear the proper clothes (they had probably been lost during the captivity). The angel tells satan, “The Lord rebuke thee”, and proceeds to clothe Joshua with a set of priestly clothes and a mitre (vs. 4 & 5), thus showing God’s acceptance of him. The inference behind the complaint was that God had not really chosen Jerusalem for the Jews to rebuild, and that therefore they were going ahead with their plans without God behind them. But the angel says that “the Lord…hath chosen Jerusalem”, in the same way as He had chosen Joshua to be high priest. Thus Joshua represented Jerusalem. “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” the angel asks satan concerning Jerusalem. This is quoted in Jude v. 23 concerning saving repentant sinners. Thus the angel is in effect saying, “Jerusalem has repented, therefore I have plucked them out of the fire of judgment and destruction; you should not therefore be implying that Jerusalem and the Jews are so sinful that they cannot be restored to their land with Me behind them”.

Jude says that the dispute between the angel and the devil – those opposed to the rebuilding of the temple – was “about the body of Moses”. This phrase can therefore either refer to the Jewish people generally , in the same way as the Christian church is “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27) because we look to him for guidance, rather than being in the “body of sin” (Rom. 6: 6) because we follow sin, or to Joshua the high priest. Joshua was the “body of Moses” in the sense that “body” can be a figure of speech for a “slave”, e.g. Revelation 18:13; Hebrews 10: 5; Psalm 40: 6; and Exodus 21:2-6, and Romans 6: 6 where having a “body of sin” probably means being a “slave of sin”. The High Priest was thus the slave of Moses.

3. Another suggestion it that the “body of Moses” was Moses’ literal Body; Michael the archangel was the angel of Israel (Dan. 12:1) who led them through the wilderness in the cloud and fire (Ex. 23:20-21). The dispute may have been between the angel and a group of Jews – “the devil” – who wanted to take the body of Moses with them. But the angel had buried Moses’ body and would not tell anyone where it was (Deut. 34:6). Remember that the body of Joseph was carried up into Canaan by the Jews (Josh. 24:32) as were the bodies of Jacob and the twelve patriarchs from Egypt (Acts 7: 15-16 R.V..); and we know that the bodies of the kings of Israel were used in wrong worship rituals (Ez. 43:7); it is to be expected, therefore, that some of the Jews would also want to take the body of Moses, their great leader, with them. The Jews laid great store by having the remains of their leaders physically with them- they are condemned for keeping the corpses of their kings in the temple (Ez. 43:7-9).

5-31 The Synagogue Of Satan

Revelation 2: 9-10, 13 & 24: “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich), and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of these things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life”. “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth”. “But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden”.

Popular Interpretation

These passages are taken to mean that there is a powerful being called Satan waging war against Christians, at times working through civil powers to do so.


1. We have seen several times in these notes that “Satan” often refers to the Jewish and Roman adversaries of the church in the first century. There is no indication here that there was a super-human being working through those Roman and Jewish systems. If it is argued that those systems received power and direction from the devil in the sense of a super-human being to persecute the church, it must be remembered that Jesus told the Roman governor: “You could have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above”, i.e. from God (Jn. 19:11). Thus it is God, not the devil, who gives power to human governments to persecute His people, as He gave them power to do so to His Son.

2. Daniel 4:32: “The most high rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever he will”. Thus God was the power behind the Roman satan, or system, that was persecuting the Christians in the first century.

3. For comment on Revelation 2: 9 see section 2-4 The Jewish Satan”.

4. The devil that gave the ecclesia at Smyrna “tribulation ten days” was clearly the Romans. It was only they who could cast them into prison. The casting into prison (place of punishment), tribulation and afterwards being honoured (physical reward), recalls the experiences of Joseph and Daniel who were persecuted by the civil powers of Egypt and Babylon, as those at Smyrna were by the civil powers of the Roman “devil”. It has been shown that there were several ten-year periods of special persecutions of Christians in the Smyrna area: under Domitian, A.D. 81-91; under Trajan, 107-117 and under Diocletian, 303-313. The Septuagint in places uses the term diabolos, false accuser, to translate the Hebrew ‘satan’. ‘Satan’ therefore carried the sense of both an adversary and also a false accuser. “The synagogue of Satan” in Smyrna may well refer to not only Jewish adversarial opposition to the Christians, but also that they falsely accused them to the Roman authorities. There could also be the suggestion that the Jewish synagogue in Smyrna was in fact working with the ‘Satan’, the Roman empire, against the Christians. Kraybill considers that the phrase “synagogue of Satan” is “a way of highlighting commercial or political relationships some Jews had with Rome”. He also gives evidence that Jews in the provinces of the empire cooperated with the Roman government in order to ensure that they continued benefitting from the Roman legislation that exempted Jews from doing military service amd paying taxes to the imperial cult (1). In Domitian’s time, a tax was levied to support the emperor and the imperial cult. Jews were exempted from this, and Christians refused to pay it. The “synagogue of Satan” in Smyrna loudly “say they are Jews” (Rev. 2:9) , in order to avoid this tax and get benefits from the Roman empire at the time; but probably denounced the Christians to the Roman ‘satan’ because of their refusal to pay that tax. So “synagogue of satan… who say they are Jews but are not” was an appropriate description of them (2).

5. Pergamos being “where Satan’s seat (throne) is”, shows that the Satan referred to is not a personal super-human being. If it is, then his throne was literally at Pergamos, for all to see. It has been shown that the Roman administration of the area was based here, thus Jesus commends the ecclesia for holding to the Truth, despite being in close proximity to the source of persecution. Thus “satan” again refers to the Roman authorities. It is also significant that a huge throne dedicated to the Greek gods has been discovered there.

6. “The depths of Satan as they speak”, refers to the false teaching of the Judaizers, the Jewish satan, who were pretending to offer deeper spiritual understanding through their false doctrine. They spoke evil about deep spiritual things which they did not understand (Jude v. 10), speaking words which seemed superficially impressive spiritually (Jude v. 16). The Judaizers’ reasonings about keeping the law and worshipping angels, “intruding into those things which he hath not seen” (Col. 2:18; i.e. “which they know not”, cp. Jude v. 10), had “a shew of (deep, spiritual) wisdom” (Col. 2:23). There are many other such examples.

7. It’s significant that Pergamon is the city described as having “satan’s throne” (Rev. 2:13). I.T. Beckwith claims that Pergamon was the first city in Asia to have a temple devoted to emperor worship (3). However it must also be noted that Pergamon was a centre for snake worship associated with the shrine of Asclepius (4). Revelation speaks of ‘satan’, the adversary, as being characterized by the serpent (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). “Satan’s throne” may also be a reference to the altar of Zeus in Pergamon. or the special throne-seat of Dionysus in the theatre there. “The city featured various Pagan sites of worship, including a monumental altar to Zeus, and a temple dedicated to Augustus and Rome,which served as the center of the cult of the Roman Emperor in Asia Minor. Pergamum was in fact the capital of the Roman Province of Asia” (5).


(1) J. Nelson Kraybill, The Imperial Cult And Commerce In John’s Apocalypse (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996) pp. 170, 186.

(2) This whole matter is discussed in some detail in Mark Bredin, ‘The Synagogue of Satan Accusation in Revelation 2:9’, Biblical Theology Bulletin Vol. 28 No. 4 (Winter 1999) pp. 160-164.

(3) I.T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse Of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1967) p. 456.

(4) J.A.T. Robinson, Redating The New Testament (London: S.C.M., 1976) p. 228.

(5) H.A. Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge: C.U.P., 2006) p. 144.

5-32 Michael And The Great Dragon

Revelation 12: 7-9: “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him”.

Popular Interpretation

This is one of the most popular passages used to suggest that there was a rebellion in heaven amongst the angels, resulting in the devil and his angels being thrown down to earth, when, in the form of the serpent, they began to create trouble and sin on earth.


1. All that we have learnt so far in this study must be brought to bear on this passage. We have seen that angels cannot sin and that there can be no rebellion in heaven. Thus this passage – which is the only one of its kind – must be interpreted in a way that does not involve angels sinning or there being sinful angels making people sin on earth, seeing that sin comes from within us, not from outside of us (Mk. 7: 20-23).

2. The serpent is cast out of heaven, implying it was originally there. But the literal serpent in Eden was created by God out of the dust of the earth (Gen. 1: 24-25). There is no implication that the devil came down from heaven and got inside the serpent. The language of “cast down” and “cast out” does not require literal downwards movement- Babylon is “thrown down” in Rev. 18:21. The O.T. basis of “cast out” is in the nations / beasts being cast out from God’s presence in the land of Israel. In Rev. 12 we have another woman in the wilderness, who enters the Kingdom [cp. the land] once the beast is cast out. In Dan. 7:9 the thrones of the beast / kingdoms are “cast down” before the Kingdom is established on earth, just as the beast is cast down before the establishment of the Kingdom in Rev. 12. The idea of being cast out of Heaven was and is common in Semitic languages and even wider culture for a loss of power- thus Cicero comments about Mark Anthony: “You have hurled your colleagues down from heaven”.

3. Note carefully that there is no reference here to angels sinning or rebelling against God, only to a war in heaven.

4. After the drama of vv. 7-9, v. 10 says that there was “a loud voice saying in heaven, now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night”. If vv. 7-9 occurred at the beginning of the world, before the time of Adam and Eve, how could it be said that after satan’s fall there came salvation and the kingdom of God? After Adam’s sin, mankind began his sad history of slavery to sin and failure – a state hardly to be described as “salvation” and the kingdom of God. There is rejoicing that the devil – the accuser – has been cast down to earth. Why should there be rejoicing if his coming to earth was the start of sin and disaster for man? If a fall from heaven to earth is understood figuratively rather than literally, as representing a fall from authority (as Is. 14:12; Jer. 51:53; Lam. 2:1; Matt. 11:23), much more sense can be made of all this. If all this happened before the time of Adam, or at least before the fall of man, how could the devil have been accusing “our brethren”, seeing they did not then exist?

5. There is nothing indicating that all this happened in the Garden of Eden. A vital point is made in Revelation 1:1 and 4:1 – that the Revelation is a prophecy of “things which must shortly come to pass”. It is not therefore a description of what happened in Eden, but a prophecy of things to happen at some time after the first century, when the Revelation was given by Jesus. Any who are truly humble to the Word will see that this argument alone precludes all attempts to refer Revelation 12 to the Garden of Eden. The question has also to be answered as to why the identity of the devil and information about what happened in Eden should be reserved until the end of the Bible before being revealed.

6. “The great dragon was…that old serpent” (Rev. 12:9). The dragon had “seven heads and ten horns” (v. 3), therefore it was not literally the serpent. It being called “that old serpent” shows that it had the characteristics of that serpent in Eden, in the sense of being a deceiver, as the serpent was. Thus the devil is not literally the serpent. If it is, then the dragon is the snake. But the dragon is a political power, manifesting sin 9satan). Pharaoh is likened to a great dragon (Ez. 32:2) but we can’t reason that therefore he was a literal dragon. Similarly, “the sting of death is sin” (1 Cor. 15:56), but that does not mean that death is a literal snake. It has the characteristics of the snake, through it’s association with sin.

7. The devil was cast down onto the earth and was extremely aggressive “because he knoweth that he hath but a short time” (v. 12). If the devil was cast down in Eden, he has had the opportunity to torment man throughout his long history – which is hardly having only “a short time” in which to wreak havoc.

8. How could the devil have deceived “the whole world” (v. 9) before he was thrown out of heaven seeing that there was no one in the world before Adam?

9. Verse 4 says that the dragon drew a third of the stars of heaven to the earth with his tail. If this is read literally – and Revelation 12 has to be read literally to support the Popular Interpretation – the sheer size of the dragon is immense – a third of the whole universe (or solar system at least) could be contained just on his tail. There is no way the planet earth would be big enough to contain such huge creature sprawling over it. Most of the stars of the solar system are bigger than our earth – how then could a third of them land on earth? And remember that all this happened, or will happen, after the first century A.D., when this prophecy was given.

10. In view of this and many other things in Revelation 12 (and the whole prophecy) which are just incapable of any literal fulfillment, it is not surprising that we are told first of all (Rev. 1:1) that this is a message that has been “signified” – i.e. signified – put into sign language, or symbol. As if to emphasize this in the context of Revelation 12, Revelation 12:1 describes the subsequent action as “ a great sign” (A.V. margin).

11. In reading of what the devil does when he is on the earth, there is no description of him causing people to sin; indeed, vs. 12-16 show that the devil was unsuccessful in his attempts to cause trouble on earth once he arrived there. This contradicts the popular interpretation.

12. One of the key questions in understanding whether this passage supports the idea of a literal war in heaven, is whether the “heaven” spoken of here is literal or figurative. We explained earlier that “heaven” can figuratively refer to a place of authority (see “Suggested Explanation” No. 7 of Eph. 6:11-13). Revelation being such a symbolic book, we would expect this to be the case here.

13. In their eagerness to show that Rev. 12:7-9 refers to fallen angels at the beginning of the world, apologists for a personal satan have rather overlooked the context of the passage. A woman in Heaven, in the agony of childbirth and resting her feet on the moon, is faced by a dragon, whose tail throws down a third of the stars of Heaven to earth (Rev. 12:4). She gives birth, and the child “was caught up unto God, and to his throne” (Rev. 12:5). Clearly enough the “heaven” where all this occurs isn’t the “heaven” where God lives and where His throne is. Next we read of a power struggle “in heaven”, and the dragon and his angels are “cast out” (Rev. 12:9). The dragon throws one third of the stars of Heaven to earth- are these Angels? If so, how come the dragon and not God casts them to earth? That’s quite the opposite of the scenario painted in Paradise Lost. How can a literalistic reading of this passage cope with the two episodes of Angels being cast down to earth? At the very least, care in thought and exposition is clearly lacking in the orthodox reading of this passage. The woman, who is never recorded as leaving “Heaven”, then flees “into the wilderness” (Rev. 12:6). Once the dragon is cast to the earth, then he starts persecuting the woman by hissing huge volumes of water at her (Rev. 12:13). The earth opens and swallows this water (Rev. 12:16)- even though the woman is never recorded as losing her “in heaven” status. All this is reason enough to not interpret “heaven” and “earth” in this passage in any literal manner. The appearance of the woman and dragon “in heaven” is described as a semeion, a “sign”, something that needs to be interpreted, rather than a literal fact (Rev. 12:1,3).

14. When we read that the devil-dragon “deceives” people, this is defined more specifically in Rev. 19:20 as referring to deceiving people in the very last days by false miracles worked in conjunction with the “false prophet”. Thus the deceit is not to be understood as a general inciting of humanity to sin in their hearts- the deceit is specified as occurring only in the last days, immediately prior to the Kingdom of God being established.

15. The Greek word ballo translated “cast out” doesn’t necessarily mean to throw down- Greek has words for this specific idea and it’s significant that they’re not used here. Here are a few examples of the usage of ballo, showing that it really means to expel or re-place:

– A wind “arose” (Acts 27:14); a crowd “threw” dust up into the air (Acts 22:23); a sword is “put up” into a sheath (Jn. 18:11) imply the word can mean to throw up as well as to throw down.

– Men “cast” stones (Jn. 8:7,59), “strike” another man on the face (Mk. 14:65), “put” fingers in the ear (Mk. 7:33), people “lay” upon a bed (Mt. 8:6,14; 9:2; Mk. 7:30)- horizontal movement.

– We “put” bits into the mouths of horses (James 3:3)- no vertical movement there. Thomas “thrust” his hand into the Lord’s side (Jn. 20:27).

– Believers were “cast” into prison (Acts 16:24,37; Rev. 2:10)- the idea of vertical movement isn’t there. Likewise love “casts out” fear (1 Jn. 4:18).

– The dragon casts water out of his mouth (Rev. 12:15,16), horizontally along the ground. Here the word clearly doesn’t mean to throw down from a height- and the same word is used in that context for the devil being “cast out”, i.e. ejected, from Heaven.

– Men “cast” dust on their own heads (Rev. 18:19).

16. The language of ‘war’ is surely metaphor rather than literal description. What begins as a literal battle ends as a legal one, as the metaphor changes to the law court, with accusers, judge and Satan’s case rejected. If the legal language isn’t to be taken literally, why should the ‘war’ language be so literal?

The Chronological Problem

The woman of v. 1 is “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars”. These heavenly bodies, as well as the woman, apparently suspended in heaven, cannot be literal. She could not literally be clothed with the sun, or have stars as big as the earth on her literal head.

Another sign appears in heaven in v. 3 – a red dragon. This is commonly taken as a literal heaven, but why should it be, seeing that the same heaven is referred to in v. 1 and that is clearly figurative? Verse 4 shows the dragon casting a third of the stars of heaven to earth. We have seen that because of the size of the stars and earth, this cannot therefore refer to literal stars or heaven. The Kingdom of God is to be established on earth (Dan. 2: 44; Matt. 5:5), which will not be possible if the earth is destroyed (which it would be) by huge stars falling onto it.

The woman in “heaven” then delivered her child, who was “caught up unto God and to his throne” (v. 5). God’s throne is in heaven. If the woman was already in heaven, why would her child have to be “caught up” to heaven? She must have been a symbol of something on earth, although in a figurative “heaven”. She then flees “into the wilderness” (v. 6). If she was in literal heaven, this means there is a wilderness in heaven. It is far more fitting for her to be in a figurative heavenly place, and then flee to a literal or figurative wilderness on the earth.

We then come to v. 7 – “there was war in heaven”. All other references to “heaven” in Revelation 12 having been figurative, it seems only consistent that this was war in a figurative heaven. This must be the case, as there can be no rebellion or sin in literal heaven (Matt. 6:10; Ps. 5: 4-5; Hab. 1:13). The common view claims that wicked angels are locked up in hell; but here they are in heaven. They are not therefore literal angels.

I sometimes ask those who believe in the orthodox idea of the devil the following question: ‘Can you give me a brief Biblical history of the devil, according to your interpretation of Bible passages? The response is highly contradictory. According to ‘orthodox’ reasoning, the answer has to be something like this.
a) The devil was an angel in heaven who was thrown out into the garden of Eden. He was thrown to earth in Gen. 1.
b) He is supposed to have come to earth and married in Gen 6.
c) At the time of Job he is said to have had access to both heaven and earth.
d) By the time of Is. 14 he is thrown out of heaven onto earth.
e) In Zech. 3 he is in heaven again.
f) He is on earth in Mt. 4.
g) He is “cast out” at the time of Jesus’ death, according to the popular view of “the prince of this world” being “cast out” at that time.
h) There is a prophecy of the devil being ‘cast out’ in Rev. 12.
i) The devil is “chained” in Rev. 20, but he and his angels were chained in Genesis, according to the common view of Jude v 6. If he was bound with ‘eternal chains’ then, how is he chained up again in Rev. 20?
From this it should be obvious that the popular view that the devil was cast out of heaven for sinning cannot be true, seeing that he is described as still being in heaven after each occurrence of being ‘cast out’. It is vital to understand both heaven and the devil in a figurative sense.

“That old serpent”

“That old serpent” (Rev. 12:9) is often misread to mean that the original serpent in the Garden of Eden is now a dragon in the sky. But care in thought and Biblical exposition is lacking in such a view. The orthodox understanding is that Satan sinned in Heaven, and was thrown down to earth, where he tempted Eve in the form of a serpent. But Rev. 12:9 is a prophecy of the future, just prior to the return of Christ to earth, saying that then there will be a conflict “in heaven”- which we understand to be figurative language. The orthodox interpretation does violence to the obvious chronology, and is evidently an opportunistic grabbing hold of Biblical phrases with no attention at all to their context, and stringing them together to justify popular Christianity’s adoption of Jewish and pagan myths about the Devil. In passing, note how Gen. 3:15 prophesies that God will put hostility between the serpent and the woman. This is not what we would expect to hear if this were indeed speaking of a pre-existent Christ and Satan. According to the orthodox understanding, the enmity between them occurred in Heaven before Satan supposedly came down to earth. Notice, too, that according to the Biblical record in Gen. 3:15 it is God who created this hostility, whereas the common view implies it was Satan’s hatred of God which was the original enmity. We read that the dragon / serpent’s “place” was not “found” in Heaven as a result of the final struggle (Rev. 12:8). The same term is to be found in Rev. 20:11, where we read that the ‘Heaven and earth’ had no place found for them in Heaven as a result of Christ’s final sitting in judgment. Clearly, ‘Heaven and earth’ are figurative- used here, as so often in the Bible, to refer to a system of things. Notice how the Devil / dragon / serpent are thus paralleled with the ‘Heaven and earth’. This worldly system of things in the last days, the dragon / serpent power, will be no more after the final judgment seat of Christ. We see all this prefigured in how the rejected Esau came before his father Isaac, typical of the rejection of the wicked at the final judgment, and “found no place”, despite his tears and gnashing of teeth (Heb. 12:17). The rejected people at the final judgment will “not be able” to enter God’s Kingdom then (Lk. 13:24)- and the same Greek word is used in Rev. 12:8 to describe how the serpent / Devil system of people will not “prevail”. Clearly the reference of Rev. 12 is to the very last day, when Christ returns to earth in judgment. The serpent ‘not prevailing’ and ‘finding no place’ with God in ‘Heaven’ refers [in the light of the same terms used in other Bible passages] to what happens at the final judgment, at Christ’s second coming, and it is therefore not descriptive of some past events in Eden. It’s also noteworthy that the serpent / Devil is ‘cast down’ from Heaven to make “woe” for “the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea” (Rev. 12:12). This hardly sounds like the orthodox Satan of Paradise Lost being thrown down to earth to make trouble for just Adam and Eve. The people who inhabit “the sea” rather than the earth surely indicates that we are to understand all this literally. And it is “the serpent” who is thrown down from Heaven to the earth / sea. Orthodox thinking holds that Satan was cast down and became a serpent here on earth rather than being a serpent “in Heaven” as Rev. 12 requires. In any case, the woman in Rev. 12 is persecuted by the serpent rather than being charmed and tempted by him; and she escapes from him by fleeing into “the wilderness”, which makes the serpent mad with her (Rev. 12:13-17). None of this Biblical testimony fits the orthodox interpretation of the passage- it directly contradicts it.

The “old serpent” may be a reference to the characteristics of the serpent whom we meet in Genesis. The serpent-Eve incident played itself out in history, and still does, in that the children of the woman [God’s people] are tempted and now threatened by the powers of sin and sinful organizations. Thus Paul could say that in the same way as the serpent tempted Eve, so Jewish false teachers in the early church were tempting the true bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:3). So it was again in the persecution of true Christians by the Roman empire, which Rev. 12 initially refers to; so it was throughout history; and so it will be in the time of the final tribulation before the second coming of Christ. My specific suggestions as to the fulfillment of Rev. 12 in the latter day tribulation can be found in The Last Days Chapter 12-7.

The Greek archaios, translated “old” in Rev. 12:9 and Rev. 20:2, can easily be misread as meaning simply ‘the archaic / very old’ serpent. But archaois is a form of the Greek root arche– the dragon power of Rev. 12 is the arch-serpent, the archetypical serpent. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the serpent is very old. For the serpent who tempted Eve suffered from the curse which came upon all other “beasts of the field” (Gen. 3:1), and died. We see serpents today eating dust and crawling on their bellies, living and dying like any other creature. The arche serpent doesn’t therefore mean ‘the very very old serpent, the animal who tempted Eve, is still actually alive’. We meet the word arche elsewhere in the context of meaning ‘archetype’ rather than ‘having been in existence from the beginning of Biblical history’: “The principles (Gk. arche) of Christ” (Heb. 6:1); “the first (Gk. arche) principles of the oracles of God” (Heb. 5:12); and quite commonly arche is simply translated as “magistrates”, “rulers”, “principalities”- the ordering, arch-principles and foundations of society (Lk. 12:11; 20:20; Rom. 8:38; 1 Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:10,15; Tit. 3:1). In line with this understanding, I think we could fairly paraphrase Rev. 12:9 as: “The great dragon, the classic, typical serpent, the thinking and behaviour of Eden’s snake played out all over again in classic role, the Gentile / Roman Devil and the Jewish Satan, an evil system adversarial to God’s true people”.

Austin Farrar coined the term “a rebirth of images” (1) to describe what’s going on in Revelation. Old Testament images are taken up and given a new focus; and this is what’s happened with the images of the serpent. It’s not a reference to the same serpent as was in Eden- but a rebirth of that image. G.B. Caird has commented on the very common error of interpretation made with Rev. 12: “Later Christian tradition, by the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, treated this as a precosmic event… quite failing to recognize that John’s imagery had an earthly referent” (2). What Caird is saying, in dense theological language, is that Christian folk have over literally interpreted the reference to the serpent, assuming that Rev. 12 is talking about something happening before creation, when in fact it is referring to things happening on earth in John’s own generation.

The Deception Of The Devil (Rev. 12:9)

The dragon power is associated with “the false prophet” and the doing of fake miracles (Rev. 13:14; 19:20)- this is the basis upon which the dragon / Satan / adversary of God’s people “deceives” the world (Rev. 12:9). There are multiple connections between the Lord’s Olivet prophecy and the prophecy of the book of Revelation. Almost every commentary on Revelation brings these out, and I have listed many of them in The Last Days Chapter 12. The Lord Jesus repeatedly warned His followers not to be “deceived”- using the same Greek word as in Rev. 12:9 about the dragon / Devil ‘deceiving’ unbelievers. But He warns time and again that the source of this deception will be from “men… false prophets… false Christs… false prophets” doing false miracles (Mt. 24:4,5,11,24). Jesus says nothing about some fallen-Angel ‘Satan’ being behind these men. He simply warns His followers to beware of human deceivers- and Rev. 12 fills out the picture by specifically painting these men as part of a massive human system called Satan, the adversary, who would have all the characteristics of the serpent in Eden, just as the adversaries of God’s people always have had. This system of opposition, in the first century context, was both Jewish and Roman- hence the dragon is called both “the devil and satan” in Rev. 12:9- diabolos being the Greek term for the Hebrew satan. They are practically interchangeable- but both terms occur here, I suggest, in order to show that the opposition to Christianity was coming from both Jewish and Gentile sources. Time and again the New Testament writers warn the Christians of both Jews and Gentiles, men [not demons, spirits, fallen Angels, Satan etc.- but men] who “seek to deceive you” (1 Jn. 2:26; 3:7; James 1:16). “Be not deceived” is a watchword of Paul (1 Cor. 6:9; 15:33; Gal. 6:7). It is the world which is deceived by wicked men (1 Tim. 3:13; Tit. 3:3; 1 Pet. 2:25)- just as Rev. 12:9 says that the dragon / Satan system will deceived “the whole world”. That system was thus composed of wicked men. In all these passages, the very same Greek word occurs which is translated “deceive” in Rev. 12:9. Again we have to ask- why did Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and John not spell out to their converts that it was really Satan who was tempting them and likely to deceive them? Why do they repeatedly stress that it is men and the human heart (Heb. 3:10; 1 Jn. 1:8) who are the deceivers? Why do we have to wait until the very last book of the Bible to be told that actually, it’s Satan who’s doing this? How can belief in a personal Satan be so crucial to many churches, when the earliest Christian converts [made before Revelation was given] had been taught nothing about any Angel falling from Heaven and being responsible for temptation? Was there one Gospel for them, but another for the 21st century church?

The Serpent In God’s Presence (Rev. 12:10)

The ‘accusation’ of God’s people “before God” by the serpent / Devil doesn’t mean he has to be literally in Heaven (Rev. 12:10). The same term is found in Jn. 5:45 where the Lord Jesus states that the long-dead Moses ‘accuses’ the Jews to God. Our own thoughts accuse us to God (Rom. 2:15). What all this surely means is that things done on earth, good and bad, even thoughts and feelings, are somehow represented before the throne of God, perhaps by representative Angels there, and God [to continue the figure] ‘judges’ those reported accusations. But this doesn’t require our literal presence in Heaven to do this. The first century mind, especially those from a Jewish background, would likely have picked all this up with no problem; it is the European insistence on literalism in semantics which has lead to so many of the problems in interpretation which these verses have given rise to. We have to somehow shed our slowness and hesitancy to accept that figures [e.g. of a judgment court replete with literal books, throne, accusers, witnesses] are just that- figures.

Suggested Explanations

1. To try and expound this chapter fully is out of the scope of our present notes. A full explanation of these verses requires an understanding of the entire book of Revelation in order to get them in context.

2. The conflict in figurative heaven – i.e. a place of authority – was therefore between two power groups, each with their followers, or angels. Remember that we have often identified the devil and satan with the Roman or Jewish systems.

3. That the devil-dragon represents some kind of political power is indicated by it having “crowns upon his heads” (v. 3). Revelation 17:9 -10 also comments on this dragon: “Here is the mind that hath wisdom” – i.e. don’t try and understand this animal as a literal being – “The seven heads are seven mountains…these are seven kings”. One of the kings continuing “a short space” perhaps connects with the devil-dragon having “but a short time” in Revelation 12:12.

Revelation 12: Deconstructing Pagan Myths

Various scholars have shown that this passage is full of allusion to contemporary pagan myths (3). This is in keeping with what we have seen elsewhere in the Scriptures- pagan myths are alluded to in order to deconstruct them. Surely the point of all the allusions here in Revelation 12 is to say: ‘Take your attention away from all these myths of what supposedly is going on out in the cosmos. Get real. Here on earth, you are going to be persecuted by Rome [or some other adversary]. Prepare for it in your hearts. The real enemy isn’t a dragon in the sky. It’s Rome’. Other scholars have demonstrated that Revelation 12 and 13 contain many allusions to contemporary Jewish writings- e.g. Rev. 12:9; 13:14 speak of the beast / Satan “leading astray those that dwell on the earth”, quoting from the Apocalypse Of Abraham and Enoch 54.6 about the armies of Azazel / Satan who “lead astray those that dwell on the earth”. The point is that pagan Rome and the Jewish ‘satan’ were those who were leading astray, and who would be punished in the cataclysm of AD70; and in a last days context, it is the latter day Satan / beast who will lead astray many and be destroyed by the second coming of Christ.

For 15 years Dr. David Pitt-Francis applied an exceptional mind to trying to get to grips with the book of Revelation (4). His conclusion, written up in chapter 9 of his book, was that not only does Revelation 12 not teach the existence of a personal Satan, but it actually is a parody of the whole belief in a sinful Satan figure existing in Heaven. He follows the approach that Revelation 12 alludes heavily to pagan myths of a Satan figure existing in Heaven, and that the whole idea of the chapter is to show that given the victory of the Lord Jesus over all evil, those pagan ideas are just no longer tenable in any form. The idea of a Satan figure in Heaven has been ‘cast down’ for the serious believer in Christ: “Satan was imagined to have dominated at least a third of heaven in pre-Christian times. Babylonian, Zend and Teutonic thought assumed ‘Satan’ or his equivalent to be in possession of about a third of heaven. Jewish apostate thought (as in Enoch) also imagined a third of heaven to be in the possession of rebellious angels. The vision of a dragon occupying a third of heaven, and specifically defined as the ‘devil and Satan’ is provided at this stage, not to indicate some literal fact, but to summarise the preconceptions about the devil which had existed in pagan thought before the coming of Christ, and that had even crept into Judaism… It was primarily the task of Christianity to show the world that evil could have no place in heaven, that it did not occupy a place in heaven except in the imagination of mankind, and that it could be vanquished by the grace of Christ, and the Word of His testimony… the casting forth of Satan from heaven is a powerful symbol of what would happen to the human concept of evil as a result of the teaching of Christ. The woman and the dragon cannot coexist in heaven… Could there have been such a literal ‘devil’ or even a ‘literal’ dragon, who perverted a third of the angels in heaven and cast them to the ground, as Jewish apocalyptic writers had actually believed? If we adopt this literalistic stance, we not only fall into the error of those books against which the Revelation was written but miss the main message of the chapter, that since the advent of Christianity to disprove the concept of imagined evil in heaven, no ‘devil’ has ever had any place there”. He goes on to suggest that ‘Satan’ in post-Christian religions [e.g. Islam] has always been envisaged as a being living under the earth, in a supposed “hell”, rather than in Heaven. Whether or not we feel happy with this kind of ‘spiritualized’ interpretation of Revelation, the allusions of Revelation 12 to material in the book of Enoch about Heavenly rebellions, Enoch being caught up to God etc., cannot be gainsaid. And I suggest that such allusions are indeed, as David Pitt-Francis suggests, in order to deconstruct these wrong ideas.

Revelation 12: Judgment On Rome

It may be helpful to take this line of thought further. Revelation is a description of events on earth from the perspective of what happens in Heaven- encouraging the early Christians that God and His Son and His Angels are in fact intensely aware of the crises going on, and actually the whole scenario is playing itself out in the court of Heaven. All powers and individuals and organizations on earth have in Heaven their Angelic representatives, and the situations are tried by God before His throne- with the result that it is those on the side of Christ who are vindicated. The language with which John’s Apocalypse achieves this is shot through with allusion to earthly realities, often deconstructing the claims of pagans. Rome was the great reality of the first century world; it was appropriate for the Jewish mind of the time to understand the “serpent” / adversary figure as referring to Rome. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “the Serpent is spoken of as Harasha’, “the Wicked One,” in Gen. R. xx., Bek. 8a (compare Targ. Yer. Gen. iii. 13); and Rome as the wicked kingdom, Malkut ha-resha’ah (Gen. R. lxxvi.)” (5).

Roman coins depicted the goddess Roma, THEAN ROMEN, as queen of the gods and mother of the world’s saviour. John speaks of she who claims to be the queen of the earth (Rev. 18:7)- and portrays her instead as nothing but a prostitute, who is soon to be destroyed. The fact Revelation alludes to the goddess Roma in this way doesn’t mean that ‘she’ actually existed in Heaven in reality. And the way John in Rev. 12 likewise alludes to myths about dragons and beasts doesn’t mean they exist either. The material in Rev. 12 has some twists in it which debunk the legends- thus it is not emperor of Rome who slays the dragon, it is the victory of Christ on the cross, through His blood, which is the real means of victory against all opposition on earth. The telling paradox is that the escape for the persecuted child is through death, through blood, rather than through some dashing heroic victory in battle. When Jeremiah compared Babylon to a dragon gulping down Jerusalem whole, we don’t for a moment think that Babylon was a literal dragon (Jer. 51:34); likewise when Ezekiel calls Pharaoh a dragon lying in a stream (Ez. 29:3). The message was that the real dragon / chaos monster was earthly powers- and God would break them. And so it is with Revelation’s message, although more attention is given to the idea of those earthly powers having Angelic representatives in the court of Heaven.

The language of judgment is really common throughout the Bible. In fact we could say that legal language is disproportionately common in the Bible. The idea of a Divine, heavenly court is common. God is the judge who upholds the weak, those who are condemned by human judgment (1 Sam. 24:15; Ps. 9:4; 43:1; 140:12; Lam. 3:58; Mic. 7:9); He is even portrayed as the one appealing for justice (Ps. 74:22). If God is the only and ultimate judge, then His judgment is all that ultimately matters, and in this sense human ‘sentences’ or judgment from the court of human opinion are reversed by Him (Prov. 22:22,23). Yet the pain of being judged by those around us is highly significant to us mortals; and time and again, Scripture is reminding us that we should not pay deep attention to this, because God’s judgment is what ultimately matters; and the Divine court is sitting in session right now, at the very same time as those around us are judging us with their meaningless human judgments. This, then, is the ultimate answer to the pain of being slandered and defamed, being misunderstood and misrepresented, or feeling that persecution by worldly powers is not noticed by God.

The traditional reading of Revelation 12 makes out that there was a rebellion in Heaven, the Devil came down to earth, and then trouble started down here. But the whole idea of Revelation’s visions of ‘heaven’ is that we are being given snapshots of the ‘throne room’ of Heaven, the Divine court… which is a reflection of what is actually going on here on earth, and what will subsequently follow from this in the future. I wish to stress this point, because I think it’s fundamental to understanding Revelation. Those visions aren’t historical descriptions of what happened before creation, before human history. They are insights into how God right then in the first century viewed what was going on there in the Middle East on planet earth, showing us how He judged the situations and Governments and individuals involved, and what would follow from this. Thus when we read that no place was found for the opposing forces in Heaven (Rev. 12:8), we are to imagine the representative of those forces, the barrister as it were, being thrown out of court. They would simply disappear from the Heavenly court room, thrown out of court as it were, perhaps reflected by the Angel representing them leaving the court. What makes interpreting Revelation so confusing is that there are so many layers of allusion going on in the text at one and the same time. Thus Rev. 12 alludes to the surrounding myths, and yet also on multiple further layers to Old Testament themes. The vision of Rev. 12 clearly has in mind Pharaoh pursuing the escaping Israelites as a dragon pursues (Ex. 14:8), Israel like the early church carried on eagles’ wings to some safety (Ex. 19:4), Pharaoh trying to destroy Israel by drowning them in the water of the Nile, God providing for His people in the desert. Again, these allusions are to a real historical situation that happened here on earth- and not to some Biblically unrecorded drama somewhere out in the cosmos.


(1) Austin Farrar, A Rebirth Of Images (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963).

(2) G.B. Caird, The Language And Imagery Of The Bible (London: Duckworth, 1988) p. 55.

(3) Neil Forsyth, Satan And The Combat Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989) chapter 13. For example, the Greeks believed that the dragon Python attempts to kill the new born son of Zeus but is stopped the escape of the child’s mother, Leto, to the island of Delos; Apollo then comes and slays the dragon. For the Egyptians, Set the red dragon hunts Isis but is then killed by her son Horus. In other myths, the dragon of darkness tries to kill the sun god but is killed by him. There are other examples of the sun god myth being alluded to in Revelation. Take the description of Jesus as having eyes as a flaming fire and feet of pure bronze (Rev. 2:18). This is said to the Thyatira ecclesia- and the god of Thyatira was Apollo, the sun god, know locally as Tyrimnos, who appeared in this very form on the city’s coins. The point of the allusion was that actually, there is no sun god- for the Christians in Thyatira, that means Jesus.

(4) David Pitt-Francis, The Most Amazing Message Ever Written (Irchester, UK: Mark Saunders Books, 1983).

(5) Jewish Encyclopedia, article on Ahriman [available online at].

5-33 Devil And Satan Bound

Revelation 20: 2, 7 & 10: “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years”. “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison”. “And the Devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever”.

Popular Interpretation

These verses are taken to indicate that the serpent in Eden was the Devil, and that this is a personal being which is responsible for spiritually deceiving the world.


1. Verse 10 says that Satan is to be thrown into the lake of fire for ever. Eternal fire represents total destruction (Jer. 17:27; Jude v. 7) – it is not to be taken literally. Thus Satan is to be totally destroyed. Angels cannot die or be totally destroyed (Lk. 20: 35-36), therefore Satan is not an angel. Death is also “cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14). Death is not a being or person, it is an abstract concept. Death being cast into the lake of eternal fire, shows that it is going to be totally ended/destroyed. The beast and false prophet are also there. From what we learn earlier in Revelation these are human organizations, and according to this verse are also to be destroyed. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death”; those who commit sin will be punished with death, not eternal fire, therefore the lake of fire where they are must represent total destruction and death. Revelation 20:14 says as much: “the lake of fire…is the second death”.

2. We have seen in Comment No. 6 on Revelation 12: 7-9, that the Devil being called “that old serpent” means that whatever is represented by the Devil – be it our evil desires or a political system – has the characteristics of the serpent in Eden.

3. We have seen in our Comment on Revelation 12: 7-9 that the dragon is not a literal dragon, therefore the serpent is also to be taken figuratively.

4. We have seen that sin and spiritual deception come from our own evil heart (Mk. 7: 21-23; James 1:14-15). Jeremiah 17: 9 says that our heart is too deceitful for us to fully appreciate just how deceptive it is. We have also often seen that this evil heart is sometimes termed “Satan”; but Satan is not a force outside that evil heart – it is the heart itself.

5. Notice that Satan’s deceit of the nations and all of his powers were totally in control of God (Rev. 20: 2, 3 & 7). Satan is not a free agent to act as he wishes, without regard for God.

6. If the Devil in the sense of a personal being is caught hold of and bound at the start of the 1000 years, i.e. at the return of Christ, how then are we to understand that the Devil was “destroyed” by the death of Christ, and by the fact that a perfect Jesus had human nature (Heb. 2:14)? How come he is still running free at the time of Christ’s return? Further, Jesus had prophesied how in His death, He would “bind” [same Greek word] the “strong man” and enable us to spoil the Devil’s house (Mt. 12:29). The Devil in the sense of sin and the power of sin was indeed bound by the Lord’s death. The parable of the wheat and tares helps explain things further- the tares, the people and systems who follow the Devil in the sense of the desires of sin, grow together with the wheat, until the Lord comes and the Angels go forth and “bind them in bundles to burn them” (Mt. 13:30). Here in Rev. 20:1,2 we have an Angel binding the Devil and then burning him in the lake of fire. There’s an evident connection here. Surely the idea is that those people and systems who have followed the Devil / the flesh / sin will be exposed for whom they are, bound by the Angels, and destroyed by the end of the 1000 years. The Lord uses the same figure of ‘binding’ to describe how the condemned people at the final judgment will be ‘bound hand and foot’ by the Angels and then destroyed (Mt. 22:13).

7. I suggest that here again we have an example of Scripture alluding to contemporary incorrect ideas and deconstructing them. The Jews until about 150 B.C. believed that Messiah would return and establish His Kingdom on earth. But influenced by their humiliation under the Romans, they came to believe that the world was too evil for Messiah to return to, and that it required a 1000 year period of purification by the Jews before Messiah could return. Slavonic Enoch 22-23, which has been dated at around 50 A.D., stated this specifically. Revelation was therefore written with this idea current in the surrounding Jewish world. I suggest that this incorrect view is being alluded to and deconstructed, by stating that Messiah will come at the beginning of the 1000 years and ‘purify’ the earth forcibly by figuratively ‘chaining’ Satan. Thus Messiah is to come and purify the earth Himself, rather than the Jews having to purify the earth for 1000 years before Messiah could come.

Suggested Explanations

1. Revelation 20:2 has clear links with Revelation 12: 9 – “the great dragon…that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world”. We have interpreted this as having some reference to a political organization which epitomizes the Devil, i.e. man’s evil desires. The fact that it is “bound” for the 1,000 years of Christ’s Millennial reign (i.e. the first part of this Kingdom which He will set up on earth at His second coming), shows that this organization is very much in evidence in the last days before His coming – i.e. now.

This organization is “bound” during the Millennium. It then reappears, with God’s permission, at the end of the 1,000 years (v. 7) and inspires a political confederacy of nations to attack Christ (v. 8) – “God and Magog, to gather them together to battle”. This has many echoes of the confederacy against Christ in these last days before the second coming (cp. Ez. 38:2; Rev. 16:14 & 16). The same kind of political system will, perhaps, be allowed to develop again at the end of the 1,000 years. However, it is totally destroyed, v. 10, along with the other political systems – “the beast and the false prophet” – that meet their end at Christ’s second coming. The whole book of Revelation is full of allusions to the Old Testament prophecies. Rev. 20:1-3 is surely based upon Is. 24:21,22, which prophesied that the kings of the earth will be gathered together, imprisoned in a pit and punished. It is these very human “kings of the earth” who are described in the more figurative language of Revelation as “Satan”.

2. From what we know of conditions in the Millennium (the 1,000 years reign of Christ at the start of the Kingdom of God), the “Devil and Satan” here clearly also represent the evil desires within man and the expression of those desires in sin. In the Millennium, the curse that was put on the earth in Eden will be greatly reduced. The deserts will be fertile (Is. 35:1), there will be no more famine (Is. 35: 7; Ps. 67: 6; 72:16) and therefore man will not have to work so much in the sweat of his face to stay alive (Gen. 3:17). However, man will still have to till the ground and “sweat” to some extent (Is. 65:21). Although people will live much happier and longer lives, there will still be death – if a man dies at 100 years of age he will be thought of as a mere child (Is. 65:20). This is why, at the end of the 1,000 years, there will be a second resurrection (Rev. 20: 5-6) for those who die during that 1,000 years.

Sin brings death (Rom. 6:23). The curse on the earth came because of sin, and to some degree is perpetuated because of our continued sinning – “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all (men) have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). The reduction of the curse will therefore be because man is sinning less, although it will still be there to some degree because the people are still sinful descendants of Adam. An accurate way of saying that man is sinning less is to say that the Devil – the evil desires and sins of man – is bound for 1,000 years, but resurges at the end, leading to a rebellion against Christ.

If this was the fault of an evil being outside of people, he should be punished, but they are punished (Rev. 20: 9) because they have given way to the Devil within them. When the Devil is cast into the lake of fire, so is death (Rev. 20:10 cp. v. 14), implying that the Devil and death are closely connected – which they are, because “the wages of sin (the Devil) is death” (Rom. 6:23); the Devil “had the power of death” (Heb. 2:14). Thus the Devil here in Revelation 20 is also our evil desires; they deceive the whole world, seeing that “the whole world lieth in wickedness” and is obedient to the lusts of the flesh (i.e. the deception of the Devil) – 1 John 5:19; 2:16.

Digression 6: “The man of sin” (2 Thess. 2)

However we understand the “working of Satan” (energeian tou Satana) in 2 Thess. 2:9, it was under the control of God- for it was part of the “strong delusion” (energeian planes) which God sent (2 Thess. 2:11). The repetition of the word energeian is missed through the mask of translation through which most read this passage, but in the original Greek it stands out clearly. The ‘Satan’ isn’t working against God but is being used by God in His working in the lives of others. It is “evil” and “the work of Satan” which deceives the wicked (2 Thess. 2:9,10); but God works through this, it is He who sends the delusion… an indication that ‘Satan’ here is not radical evil, i.e. evil that is free and independent from God, lurking free in the cosmos as it were, but is sent by God, under His control. But of course, we want to know more about this ‘Satan’; and in section 2-4 we analyzed the way in which Jewish opposition to the Christian Gospel was a significant adversary or ‘Satan’ in the first century.

Like the majority of New Testament prophecy, 2 Thess. 2 has application to both AD70 and the last days, although this does not preclude a reference to the Papacy down through the years between those times. It was inspired at a time when apostacy had already set in within the ecclesia, largely due to the inroads of the Judaizers. We can be sure that the Jewish opposition which attended Paul’s first visit to Thessalonica would have continued well after he left. They were under pressure from “them that trouble you” (2 Thess. 1:6), who are defined in Gal. 5:11-13 as the Judaizers (“they… which trouble you”). The Thessalonians are comforted that these troublers would be destroyed by the Lord’s second coming in fire, “taking vengeance on them… that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (preferring that of Moses): who shall be punished with everlasting destruction (cp. Gehenna) from the presence of the Lord” (1:9). This sounds very much like the punishment of the responsible at judgment day (Jude 24)- and the Judaizers fit that category. Significantly, the only occurrences of the Greek idea of a “man of sin” in the LXX describe Jewish apostates (Prov. 24:22; Is. 57:4).

A Specific Individual

This prophecy speaks of a specific “man of sin” who would arise within the people of God [be they Israel or the ecclesia]. It seems that there may have been such an individual in the first century:

“You have heard that antichrist shall come” (1 Jn. 2:18)

– “Who [singular] did hinder you… a little leaven [that] leaveneth the whole lump…he that troubleth you…” (Gal. 5:8-10)

– “He that is of the contrary part” (Tit. 2:8)

– “Who (which individual) hindered you?… (Paul’s) letters, saith he, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:7,10

– The world- the first century Jewish world, in John’s usage of the term- was under the power of a ‘Satan’, a Prince or leader (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 1 Jn. 5:19) – perhaps the High Priest?

– A “stranger” to the flock and a “thief” would come to harm the flock of the Lord Jesus (Jn. 10:5,10).

– The existence of such an individual would make special sense of the Lord’s request for the Father to keep the disciples safe from “the evil one” (Jn. 17:15). 1 Jn. 2:13,14 alludes to this prayer and shows it to have been fulfilled in the first century- the true believers had been kept safe from “the evil one”. And there appears some connection with the promise of Rev. 3:10, given just prior to the cataclysm of AD70, to keep the brethren safe from “the hour of trial”.

– John seems to speak, at least in the Greek text, of one specific individual- e.g. “The one [singular] saying he is in the light” (1 Jn. 1:9). “Who, then, is the liar?” (1 Jn. 2:22) has evident connection with the lying antichrist figure of 2 Thess. 2:8,9; and “the deceiver” (2 Jn. 7) connects with that same figure who will follow “deceit” (2 Thess. 2:11). John saw the singular antichrist as being heralded by many antichrists who had, he felt, already arisen in the first century. They belonged to the [Jewish] world (1 Jn. 4:5)- an indication that the antichrist is somehow Semitic, at least in its first century application. John’s reference to “many false prophets” (1 Jn. 4:1) connects with Mt. 24:11, which in an AD70 context predicts that “many false prophets shall arise”. This indicates to me that the singular antichrist had some fulfillment in the first century. And the same will be [is?] true in our last days. The likes of Saddam Hussein and Hitler are perhaps such antichrists who presage the coming of the specific person who will be the latter day antichrist. They had some similarities to him, but were not the actual person. Significantly, John seems to have understood this person as someone who would nominally accept Jesus, but deny that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed Messiah (1 Jn. 2:22). This would fit a Moslem position far better than it would a Catholic- for Catholics believe that Jesus is the Christ. Likewise in the first century, the Jewish antichrists believed Jesus had existed, but denied He was the Christ.

It is noteworthy that this individual is not named. Martin Hengel comments, correctly: “One of the riddles of Jewish and early Christian polemic is that it hardly ever really names its opponents, but tends to use derogatory paraphrases. This is [also] true of Essene polemic, which conceals its opponents in ciphers” (1). In this context we recall the references to Babylon and Egypt in the Old Testament as, e.g., “Rahab”. Paul likewise doesn’t seem to refer to his enemies by their names but rather hides behind almost taunt phrases (2 Cor. 11:5,13; 12:11; Gal. 5:12; Phil. 3:2; and see too Gal. 1:7; 3:1,10; 4:17; 2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2; Rom. 3:8; 15:31). The references to the prophetess “Jezebel” in Rev. 2:20 and “the teaching of Balaam” (Rev. 2:14) don’t actually name the individuals concerned, but rather give them a kind of code name.

It is against this background that 2 Thess. 2:2 warns them not to be “soon shaken in mind, or be troubled (cp.1:6; Gal. 5:12), neither by Spirit, nor by word (from those claiming the Spirit gift of prophecy), nor by letter as (if it were) from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand” (R.V. “here”). This all indicates Judaist activity; they had elsewhere used the tactic of forging letters in Paul’s name (Gal. 6:11; Heb. 13:22; 1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 3:1). Thus Paul concludes this second letter to the Thessalonians with “the salutation of me Paul with mine own hand which is the token in every epistle, so I write” (2 Thess. 3:17). Their reasoning was that the day of Christ, i.e. the Kingdom, was already present. This was a basically Jewish argument- hence the Judaist cancer at Ephesus had lead to Hymenaeus and Philetus “saying that the resurrection (and therefore the Lord’s return) is passed already; and overthrown the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:18).

The Jewish nature of the man of sin which Paul warns the Thessalonians of is also suggested by a careful reflection upon 1 Jn. 2:11,19: ” He that hateth his brother… walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth… they went out from us, but they were not of us” . This is all alluding back to the example of Cain going out from God’s presence and wandering in the land of Nod with no direction to his life. Cain is a type of the Judaizers and the Jewish system (Jn. 8:44); the primary reference of John’s letters was probably to the Judaizers. These people are described in 1 Jn. 2:18 as “antichrists” whose presence heralded the full manifestation of “the antichrist”. This is why the New Testament repeatedly stresses that the appearance of false teachers and fake Christs will be a sign of the end. If these antichrists of the first century were Jewish, then “the antichrist” probably also was. There is ample evidence that John’s letters were primarily intended for ecclesias facing this Judaizer problem. The copious links with his Jewish-based Gospel should make this evident. Note too that the Qumran Essenes described the apostate High Priest as “the man of lies”. Tertullian’s interpretations of John’s letters clearly understood the “antichrists” to be referring to contemporary false teachers.

Paul warns that the Lord’s coming will not be until there has come a marked further apostacy, and the full public revelation of the man of sin, whose “mystery of iniquity” was already quietly at work. It would be fully revealed once God’s withholding patience had ended. At this stage the man of sin would show “lying wonders” which would deceive many; but he would soon be destroyed by “the brightness of (the Lord’s) coming”. This “mystery of iniquity” was the Judaist false doctrine undermining the ecclesia, resulting in many believers being influenced by them, until in the immediate prelude to Christ’s ‘coming’ in AD70 the Jewish system seemed to have the upper hand over the true believers. We know from Heb. 6 and elsewhere that the Judaist elders were able to do miracles. Such a bout of impressive miracles to be done by false teachers in the last days is predicted in the Olivet prophecy and parts of Revelation. The events of AD70 then totally destroyed the Jewish system.

The following verse by verse commentary seeks to interpret 2 Thess. 2 from these two perspectives- of AD70 and the last days. The fact that “the man of sin” appeared in the first century in the form of Judaist false teaching within the ecclesia means that “the wicked one” sitting in the temple is to be read on a figurative level- as referring to the temple of the ecclesia. Indeed, most N.T. usage of “temple” is with reference to the ecclesia. The Lord’s mysterious reference to an idolatrous abomination sitting in the holy place in the last days (to which Paul is alluding) must therefore also have at least some reference to a gross evil within the latter day ecclesia.

V.3 “That day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition”.

“The son of perdition” was Judas (Jn. 17:12), the epitome of sin and the Jewish Devil (Jn. 6:70,71 cp. 8:44). We will see that throughout 2 Thess. 2 there is frequent reference to the events surrounding our Lord’s suffering and death; as we also note in the Revelation passages concerning the saints’ final sufferings. Judas was concealed among the disciples until he finally flew his true colours at his betrayal of Christ, which marked the beginning of His passion. The Judaizers were only revealed for what they really were in the traumas of AD69/70. And if the man of sin has a latter day equivalent, this group of false teachers will only show their hand immediately prior to the second coming, at the beginning of the tribulation, which matches the beginning of Christ’s final sufferings which began after Judas’ betrayal. This indicates that any witch hunt for this group is doomed to failure. The disciples tried to expose Judas, “the man of sin”, before his proper time to be manifested; and ended up accusing each other of fitting the role. Such is the inability of human nature to make accurate judgment in this respect. There were three and a half days from the time of Judas being openly revealed for what he was to the end of Christ’s sufferings, marked by the resurrection. It may be that there will be a three and a half year tribulation period for the latter day believers, beginning with the open revealing of the “man of sin” .

The N.I.V. (correctly) translated “man of sin” as “man of lawlessness” , highlighting the contradiction in the fact that the law-crazy Judaists were actually lawless. Because lawlessness abounds in the last days, the majority of the ecclesia will lose their love (Mt. 24:12). The beast is epitomized by a man- ” the number of the beast…is the number of a man” (Rev. 13:18) (3), in the same way as the system described in 2 Thess. 2 is personified as a man of sin. The figure of Rev. 13:5,6 is clearly based around an Old Testament ‘man of sin’, Goliath- a real, historical person. Rev. 11:4,13 draw a contrast between a god of the earth / land of Israel, and the true God of Heaven. The “god of the earth” has two olive trees and two candlesticks standing before him, with evident allusion back to Zech. 4:14; 6:5, where the Lord / King of the earth / land appears to refer to the King of Babylon.

These passages all imply that there may well be one specific “man of sin” in the last days. Judas, the prototype “son of perdition”, influenced the other disciples, as shown by the complaint concerning Mary’s ‘waste’ of ointment being described as made by Judas in Jn. 12:4, but by the whole group in Mt. 26:8. Jude’s letter is a warning against the Jewish-influenced apostacy of the first century. He cites “the gainsaying of Korah” as typical of the false teaching that was infiltrating the ecclesias. He could have spoken of “Korah, Dathan and Abiram”, but instead he focuses on Korah, as if he was the outstanding influence. By doing so, was Jude suggesting that there was one specific individual in the “last days” who was to be resisted?

The connection with Judas would suggest that the man of sin being in the temple may refer to the presence of this individual or system within the ecclesia. But there is a clear link with Mt. 24:15, concerning the abomination of desolation standing in the temple as a clear sign that Christ’s return is imminent, just as Paul says the man of sin in the temple is the clear sign of the second coming (2 Thess. 2:3). The Lord’s words are looking back to Daniel’s prophecy that a desolator (RV) is to appear in the temple, and also to Jeremiah’s description of Nebuchadnezzar as a ‘desolator’ of God’s people and His cities, who achieves his ‘desolation’ by a fake theophany, coming with clouds and chariots just as the Lord Jesus will (Jer. 4:7,13). The language used by Jeremiah in that section is very similar to that used in Ezekiel 38 about the individual named as ‘Gog’. The abomination that desolates is at the hands of an individual desolator- the man of sin of 2 Thess. 2. The likely application to an abomination within the ecclesia notwithstanding, one is tempted to look for a physical temple to be built in Jerusalem in order to ease the fulfillment of this prophecy. It cannot be insignificant that the right wing Rabbis are enthusiastic for this, and have already drawn up the plans for one! It could be that Rev. 13:14,15 predict that the man of sin will set up a literal image of himself there in the temple. And as has been pointed out, Caligula had ordered a statue of himself to be erected in the temple, and although this never actually happened, this would’ve been an enduring memory amongst the New Testament readership. This background again points to the personality cult of a specific individual being developed in the temple.

v.4 “Who opposeth and exalteth” is used in 2 Tim. 2:25  concerning the Judaizers and Jews, and it is translated “adversary” in the same Judaist context in Lk. 13:17; 21:15; 1 Cor. 16:9; Phil. 1:28 and 1 Tim. 5:14. Their arrogance is well described as exalting themselves above anything that is ‘worshipped’, whether Christian or otherwise. This is the same word as ” devotions” in Acts 17:23 concerning pagan idols. They made themselves “as God” , perhaps by imitating Moses, the god of this (Jewish) world” (2 Cor. 4:4 and context); James 4:11,12 is just one example of the Judaist-influenced eldership making themselves equal to Moses. There are two Greek words translated “temple” , one referring more to the physical building and the other to the spiritual dwelling place of God, i.e. the ecclesia (1 Tim. 3:15). It is this latter one which is used here-  the man of sin sits down (Gk. ‘takes his place’) in the ecclesia, showing himself (Greek ‘demonstrating’) that he is God. This word is translated “approved” in Acts 2:22 concerning Christ’s approval as God’s representative by His miracles. This indicates that the man of sin is an imitation of Christ- a true antiChrist. The showing that he is God would be through the pseudo miracles of v.9- in the same way as Moses was made as God to Pharaoh through the miracles he did (Ex. 7:1). The Judaist-influenced elders of the Jewish ecclesias seem to have retained the power of the miraculous gifts for a short time after their apostacy (Heb. 6:4-6); the Jews also had their false miracle workers (Acts 13:6; 19:14). The beast of Revelation also works impressive miracles. Thus as the man of sin did false miracles in the first century through the Jewish miracle workers and their Judaist friends within the ecclesia, so both in the beast system of the last days as well as in the ecclesia, the latter day “man of sin” will work false miracles.

v.5,6 “Remember ye not, that when I was with you, I told you these things? And now ye know (appreciate) what withholdeth, that he might be revealed in his time”.

There is a definite allusion here to Lk. 24:6: “He is… risen; remember how (with what earnestness, the Greek implies) he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee”, concerning his sufferings and resurrection. The connection runs deeper; as the Angel spoke those words in Lk. 24, the disciples were about to turn back, to capitulate to the reasoning of the Jewish Satan, due to their failure to truly appreciate earlier prophecy. The believers of AD70 and the last days have parallels with the position of those men. They had frequently heard about the coming sufferings of their Lord, but somehow turned a deaf ear to them. We too can let the reality of these warnings about our future suffering just pass us by.

Paul says that these things had previously been explained to the Thessalonians, perhaps in 1 Thess. 5:3-5; there they were told that the pre-eminent sign of the Lord’s coming is the “peace and safety” cry within the ecclesia. Now in 2 Thess. 2 Paul puts it another way: “that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first” ,  or most importantly, as the most obvious sign. “Withholdeth” is also translated as “stand fast” and also ” keep hold” , often in the context of resisting Judaist infiltration by retaining true doctrine. This would imply that the spiritually strong within the ecclesias were withholding the revealing of the man of sin and the Lord’s return (“that he might be revealed in his time” can neatly refer to either, cp. 1 Tim. 6:15). However, it was only a matter of time before the falling away was so widespread that they would be “taken out of the way”; “for the mystery of iniquity (literally ‘law-breaking’, another pun on the Judaizers’ position) doth already work” (v.7). This is the opposite to “the mystery of Godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16), and refers to the Judaizers claiming to be so spiritually deep that the Truth was a “mystery” known only to them (cp. Jude 19; Rev. 2:24). That which hindered the revealing or coming (cp. 1:7; a false second coming) of the man of sin would be taken out of the way. “Out of the way” here is normally translated “from among them” – the spiritually minded members of the ecclesia were to be taken away, so that God’s punishments could come upon the rest of them. In the first century this was shown in the command for the faithful to flee the Jerusalem ecclesia (Lk. 21:21), to come out of Babylon (Rev. 18:4), which is a common symbol of Israel and apostate Jewry in the prophets. The word for “mystery” is also used in a negative sense in Rev. 17:5,7 concerning the woman of sin riding the beast- hinting at a specific individual who will be the figurehead of the beast?

v.8 “And then shall that wicked (one) be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming” .

It was the Jewish system which was destroyed by the ‘coming’ of AD70; there is a close connection between ‘the evil one’, i.e. the Devil, and the Jewish system, as discussed in section 2-4. The Spirit and brightness of the Lord’s coming parallels the description of judgment on the Judaizers in 1:6-9: “…mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance…punished…from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power”. This judgment is against “them that trouble you” (1:6), i.e. the false Judaist ‘brethren’ who were leading the early church astray (Gal. 1:7). The link with 2:8 shows that it is such false brethren within the ecclesia (temple) who are “the wicked one” which will be destroyed by the second coming. 2 Thess. 1:6-9 also recalls the description of coming judgment on the apostate Jews  in Rom.1:18: The wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all unGodliness, and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness”. Paul’s words in Thessalonians can also be traced back to Is. 11:4: “He (Christ) shall smite the earth (Heb. ‘eretz‘- land, of Israel) with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked” in Israel, primarily. The Greek for “wicked” is translated “without law” in Romans, again making a play on the Judaizers who were claiming to keep the Law. There is a parallel between ” the mystery of iniquity” in v.7 and the “wicked one” of v.8- the revealing of “that wicked” is therefore the revealing of a mystery, which mimics the ‘revealed mystery’ of the true Gospel (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:3; 6:19; Col. 1:26). The wicked one was to be “destroyed”, the Greek for which is also translated “abolish”, “do away”, “make of no effect”, “vanish away”, “make void” etc., all in the context of the doing away of the Jewish Law and the system which supported it. This was only fully done with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in AD70.

“The spirit of his mouth” looks forward to Rev. 19:15,21 concerning Christ’s destruction of the beast, which has close links with the man of sin. The emphasis on the destruction of the man of sin by Angels and fire recalls Dan. 7:10,11 concerning the beast’s destruction by the Lord’s return. Perhaps the man of sin will appear associated with the latter day ecclesia, the temple of God, but he will be linked with the political ‘beast’ which will then be in control of the world.

v.9 “Him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” .

‘Satan’ in the New Testament frequently refers to the Jewish system. “Coming” can be translated ‘coming in’, referring to the subtle entry of Judaist agents and ideas into the ecclesia (Gal. 2:4 etc.). The coming of Christ was associated with miracles, and this would be matched by ‘Satan’s’ miracles at his ‘coming’. The Greek for “working” is often used concerning the working of the Holy Spirit. “Power, signs and wonders” is a phrase always used concerning the preaching of the Gospel (Acts 2:22,43; 4:30; Rom. 15:19; Heb. 2:4); and in 2 Cor. 12:12 concerning the qualifications of an apostle. This would portray the man of sin as a false apostle (cp. 2 Cor. 11:13-15) doing false miracles to accompany a false Gospel; he is “the son of perdition” after the pattern of Judas. The Greek for “lying” is used about the apostate Jews in Jn. 8:44; Rom. 1:25; 1 Jn. 2:21.

Jannes and Jambres were another prototype of these Judaizers (2 Tim.3:8). Perhaps these magicians who replicated Moses’ miracles were apostate Jews. Israel’s experience in Egypt points forward to ours at the time of the second coming. Perhaps the beast, symbolic ‘Egypt’ of the last days, will also have a group of renegade Jews in tow, who match the miracles performed by the latter day Moses. Showing “signs and lying wonders” is an evident allusion back to Mt. 24:24, concerning this happening in the last days of AD70 and our own times. If the miraculous gifts are possessed by some of the faithful in the last days, e.g. in connection with the Elijah ministry, the ability of the apostate believers to do miracles will seem the more credible. There are many links between 2 Thess. 2 and the Olivet prophecy:

Matthew 24

2 Thessalonians 2

Lawlessness will abound (v.12)                         

The man of lawlessness

Men saying “Lo, here is Christ” (v.23)

“Be not soon shaken… by  word… that the day of Christ is here” (v.2 R.V.)

“Believe it not” (v.23)

“Let no man (of sin) deceive you” (v.3).

“For there shall arise false Christs, and false  prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders” (v.24).

 “With all power and signs and lying wonders” (v.9)

“Insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (v.24); implying the non-elect will be deceived. 

“All deceivableness… they  (shall) believe a lie… but you, brethren beloved of the  Lord, have from the  beginning (been) chosen to  salvation” (v.10,13)- i.e. it was impossible for them to be deceived.

“Behold, I have told you before” (v.25), as Christ prophesied His sufferings.

“When I was yet with you, I  told you these things” (v.5)

“As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (v.27)

“The brightness of his coming” (v.8)

“The Son of man coming in the clouds of Heaven (Angels) with power and great glory” (v.30)

“With his mighty Angels… the   glory of his power”   (2 Thess. 1:8,9 cp. 2:8)

“Shall gather together his elect” (v.31)

“Our gathering together unto him” (v.1)

“I am Christ… shall deceive many” (v.5)

“Strong delusion, that they should believe a lie… all deceivableness of   unrighteousness in them that perish” (v.11,10).

“Iniquity shall abound” (Greek: ‘multiply’, i.e. convert more people to it)

“The mystery of iniquity  does… work” (v.7)

“The love of many shall wax cold” (v.12)

“They received not the love of  the truth” (v.9)

The description of those deceived in 2 Thess. 2 is amplifying that of the judgment seat in 1:6-9, which is concerning those responsible to judgment, i.e. those who know Christ. We therefore conclude that the many who are deceived by false claims of miracles are actually within the ecclesia. Only the elect will not be deceived. This was what happened in the run up to AD70, and must presumably be seen in our last days too. The establishment of the beast’s power in Jerusalem, accompanied by powerful miracles and the support of some Judas-like brethren within the ecclesia for it, will persuade some in the church to think that Christ is back. The connections between Matt. 24 and 2 Thess. 2 indicate that many (Gk. the majority, Mt. 24:12) within the ecclesia will be deceived, egged on by a subtle group of false Christians who will be the counterpart of the first century Judaizers.

v.10 “With all deceivableness (used concerning the Judaizers in 2 Pet. 2:13) of unrighteousness (used about the Jews in Rom. 1:18,29; 2:8; Heb. 8:12; 2 Pet. 2:13)  in them that perish (cp. 1 Cor. 1:18- about the Jews?); because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” .

This implies that they received the truth, but not the love of it. Is this true of the latter day church?

v.11 “For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie”.

This same word for “lie” is used in v.9 about “lying wonders”. This implies that the beast / false prophet / man of sin is somehow allowed by God to do the lying wonders; they will be sent by God to test the faithful. God deluded the unfaithful within the first century ecclesia into false doctrine and alienation from Him; and it seems, it we are interpreting correctly, that He will do the same in these last days.

Who Will He Be?

We have seen that the latter day man of sin will have some association with the people of God, after the pattern of Judas. He may be partly Jewish. He may even have Christian connections. Or it may be that he is an Arab, a half Jew, who will enthrone himself as the head of the Arab beast and make his capital and temple in Jerusalem. Nah. 1:15 RV describes the leader of the Assyrian invasion as “the wicked one”, the “wicked counsellor” (1:11), “he that dashes [Israel] in pieces” (Nah. 2:1). Further evidence for a charismatic Arab antichrist is provided in my study of the revival of latter day Babylon in The Last Days. Of particular significance is the way that the man of sin exalts himself “against all that is called God or that is an object of worship” (2 Thess. 2:4 RVmg.). This is exactly relevant to Islam, whose insistent belief in one God leads them to be aggressively against any icon, idol or object of worship. This is the very opposite to the Catholic way of venerating objects of worship.


(1) Martin Hengel, The Johannine Question (London: S.C.M., 1996 ed.), p. 41.

(2) This is explored in detail in section 2-4 ‘The Jewish Satan’.

(3) The following table shows the evident links between the personal “man of sin” spoken of in 2 Thess. 2, and the beast systems of Revelation. I am grateful to Phil Edmonds for tabulating these connections:

2 Thessalonians 1& 2


2:3 – son of perdition (see also John 17:12)

17:8 –  Beast goes into perdition

2:7 – mystery of iniquity (Gk. anomia(a reference to the son of perdition)

17:7 – Babylon associated with mystery 

2:8 – wicked (lit. ‘lawless’ – Gk. anomos) one revealed (see also v. 7 where “iniquity” = Gk. anomia

1:1 –  The revelation of Jesus Christ 

2:8 –  Lord consumes him [the wicked one] with the spirit of his mouth (ref. to Isaiah 11:4)

19:11, 15 – Christ destroys the beast (ref. to Isaiah 11:4)

1:8 – Lord Jesus in flaming fire 

19:12 – Christ’s eyes “as a flame of fire”

2:11 –  those who perish believe a lie (a reference to the wicked one of  2:8)

19:20 – “false (or lying) prophet”

2:11 – strong delusion (or working of deceit) (a reference to the wicked one of 2:8)

13:14 – deceive
19:20 – deceive
(references to the second beast and the false prophet)

2:9 – signs (Gk. semeion) (a reference to the wicked one of 2:8)

13:13 – wonders (Gk. semeion)
19:20 miracles
semeion) (references to the second beast and the false prophet)

2:4 – temple

11:2 – temple 

The Beast And The Man Of Sin

There are some connections between Mt. 24 and 2 Thess. 2  which show that the ” man of sin” has specific reference to the last days, as Mt. 24 does:

Matthew 24

2 Thess. 2

“Then shall many be offended” v.10

“A falling away first” v.3

“The love of many shall wax cold” v.12

“They received not the love of the truth” v.10

Many deceived v.11

“Deceivableness of unrighteousness” v.10 cp. Rev. 13:4

“Iniquity shall abound” v.12

“The mystery of iniquity” v.7

It seems reasonable to equate this “man” with the specific “antiChrist” of 1 Jn. 2:18. The beast / horn system is also an imitation of Christ. It breaks in pieces the whole earth (Dan. 7:23)- the same word used in Dan. 2:40,44 to describe Christ’s breaking in pieces of the nations at his return. The little horn will “think to change times and laws”. This is clearly alluding to Dan. 2:21, where God alone is described as changing the times and seasons. The little horn thus makes himself as God- the man of sin “as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2:4). This man of sin will be destroyed by the brightness of the Lord’s second coming (2 Thess. 2:8). He will therefore be actively in existence in the last days. This man of sin will be revealed during a falling away from the Truth just prior to the return of Christ (2 Thess. 2:2,3). Thus whatever fulfillments of this power there may have been over history, it has to be accepted that it will have a particular manifestation in the last days.

The man of sin is “the son of perdition”, clearly alluding to Judas (Jn. 17:12). This associates this power with the apostate element within the ecclesia. Through infiltrating the ecclesia, he will sit “in the temple of God” (2 Thess. 2:4), i.e. the ecclesia. Judas was a betrayer; we have seen from the Olivet prophecy that there will be betrayers within the ecclesia in the tribulation period. The link with Judas surely teaches that there will be a ‘Fifth column’ within the latter day church, who are connected with the latter day Babylon / beast / man of sin.

However, it is possible that these prophecies refer to a specific individual who claims that he is Christ- a real ‘antiChrist’, possibly associated with a renegade Christian (after the pattern of Judas being one of the twelve). It may even be that he builds a literal temple, which would then be the abomination which makes desolate standing in the holy place. Remember that the horn / beast blasphemes the temple (Rev. 13:6), and in their manifestation as the King of the North, “he shall plant the tabernacle of his palace… in the glorious holy mountain” of Zion (Dan. 11:45). 2 Thess. 2:8,9 point the contrast between the Lord’s coming and that of the man of sin- as if the latter is a replica of the former. This new power will break in pieces opposing nations just like Christ will (Dan. 7:23 cp. 2:44); he will institute a new set of laws world-wide as if he has God’s authority (Dan. 7:25 cp.2:21).

Some may be duped into thinking that Christ has come back, when actually it is the ‘antiChrist’ of the beast. The beast may have its adherents within the ecclesia who will promulgate this view. The beast has a mouthpiece in another beast that speaks like a dragon- i.e. like the beast- but has horns like a lamb, i.e. a fake Christ. This beast “does great wonders, so that he makes fire come down from heaven on earth in the sight of men (i.e. this is conscious exhibitionism), and deceives… by the means of these miracles which he had power to do” (Rev. 13:11-14). Bringing fire from Heaven means that this is a conscious imitation of Elijah, implying that the Elijah ministry is active during the tribulation. It will be opposed by the publicity stunts of the beast system.

The idea of an anti-Christ as a replica of the real Christ also occurs in Proverbs, where there is a designed contrast between the woman of wisdom (representing Christ, the seed of the woman, 1 Cor. 1:24), and the “foolish woman” who does the same external things as “wisdom” (e.g. Prov. 9:1-5 cp. 9:14-17). This prototype antiChrist is a whore, which is a symbol associated with the dragon / Babylon / beast of Revelation. Thus the antiChrist and the beast are closely linked. Because of the false miracles, the weak believer will worship the image of the beast and join the 666 system (Rev. 13:14-18). This is based on the image in the plain of Dura, which many of God’s people were duped into worshipping. Only the three friends seem to have refused to do so. Perhaps the furnaces which were the means of punishment for those who refused to worship the image are related to the furnaces of the concentration camps, which we may well see repeated in the future.

“A time of trouble”

We have suggested that the blasphemous power building his palace on the temple mount in Dan. 11:45 is the man of sin of 2 Thess. 2, and thus also the little horn power. This is immediately before the second coming of Christ and resurrection described in Dan. 12:2. It is during this period that “there shall be a time of trouble such as never was” for God’s people, natural and spiritual- the time of Jacob’s trouble that occurs after Israel’s present regathering to the land. “That day is great, so that none is like it” (Jer. 30:7). Those who are written in the book experience it, but are saved from it. This group must surely be true believers. Seeing that this will be a time of trouble for God’s people such as never was, the previous sufferings of the Jews and the tribulation of the second world war will be nothing compared to this. It will be so bad that it will seem that every one of us will perish- “there should no flesh be saved” (Mt. 24:22). But for those who doggedly hold on to the patience and faith of the saints, the glorious, miraculous deliverance will come. Even an Angel was so amazed by the extraordinary nature of this time of trouble that he asked: “How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?”. The answer was “For a time, time and an half (i.e. three and a half years); and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished” (Dan. 12:7,8). The Hebrew for “the holy people” is literally ‘the people of the holy ones’- i.e. all those among natural and spiritual Israel who belong to their holy guardian Angels. “All things” being fulfilled in Dan. 12:8 is probably alluded to in the fig tree parable- the generation that see the revival of Israel (fruit instead of leaves on the tree, as a result of Christian preaching) during that three and a half year tribulation will live to see the end of all things. The holy people are to be scattered (Dan. 12:7). The Hebrew means ‘to break in pieces’, and is also used regarding the beast / horn breaking in pieces the whole earth / land (Dan. 7:23). As it treats God’s people, so it will be judged, seeing that the little stone breaks in pieces the beast / image.

The horn who scatters God’s people in the last days, the “he” of Dan. 12:7 is the “King of the North” of Dan. 11:45- suggesting that the beast / horn has something to do with latter day Assyria and Babylon, the historical / Biblical “King of the North”. The faithful will be “tried” (Dan. 12:10) by this invader, as Israel were by the Babylonian invasion of the past (Jer. 9:7). The same word is used in Zech. 13:9 and Mal. 3:2 concerning the faithful remnant in Jerusalem enduring their future sufferings.

There are a number of similarities between Daniel 11 and the prophecies concerning the persecution of the saints by the horn / beast / man of sin:

Daniel 11

The Latter Day Tribulation

v.31 ” Shall pollute the sanctuary”           

The beast’s blasphemy against the temple

v.32 ” Such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries”      

Some of those in the covenant will be deceived by the  flatteries of the beast (cp. Dan. 8:25)

“Such as do wickedly”                          

“The wicked shall do wickedly” (Dan. 12:10)

v.32,33 “The people that do know their   God shall be strong, and do exploits… instruct many”

Zealous preaching by the faithful during persecution.

v.33 “They shall fall by the sword”             

The beast kills the saints with the sword and leads them into captivity in the tribulation (Rev.13:10). “They shall fall by the sword” is quoted in Lk. 21:24 concerning the tribulation.

“Many days”

1260 days

v.35 “Some of them of understanding shall fall” (in death)

“To try them, and to purge, and to make them white”

“Even to the time of the end; because it is yet for a time appointed”

“Some of you shall they cause to be put to death” (Lk. 21:16)- the faithful remnant are characterized by their “understanding” – of the prophecies?

” Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried” (Dan. 12:10)

The tribulation continues right up to the end- the Lord’s coming. The time appointed – 3.5 years of Dan. 12:7?

v.36 “The King…shall exalt himself”           

As the horn did over the other horns. If this verse is a continuing description of Antiochus Epiphanes, then it just isn’t all true. Rather it seems do we have another gap / jump in chronological fulfillment, as happens elsewhere in Daniel, until the latter day antichrist.

“And magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against  the God of gods”

The man of sin exalts himself above all that is called God (2 Thess. 2:4); the horn speaks blasphemy against God.

v.38 “He shall sit in the seat of the Almighty God” (

Sitting as God in God’s temple (2 Thess. 2:4)

There are too many similarities here for this to all be coincidental. The primary fulfillment of Dan. 11 appears to be in the persecution of the Maccabees. The effective tribulation which they went through then, preparing as it did a faithful remnant who accepted Jesus as Messiah at His first coming, must be a dim shadow of what the church and natural Israel are to undergo in the last days. Note that Dan. 11:33 and 12:10 emphasize that only those who understand will spiritually survive the persecution. This should serve as the ultimate inspiration to zealously apply ourselves to the study of prophecy, rather than give up because it seems too difficult. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

The Old Testament Basis

In searching for an Old Testament basis for “that wicked one”, we find that very phrase used in the Septuagint of Esther 7:4 to describe Haman. He too was ‘revealed’ for who he was- the Persian leader plotting the total destruction of Jewry, from which they were saved by grace. The entire story of Esther can be read as a detailed type of Israel’s latter day weakness, persecution and deliverance by grace. The idea of a “man of sin” within the temple of God surely has its source in the Ezekiel passages (e.g. Ez. 8:8-16) which describe the idolatry (“abomination”) which occurred within the temple in the days just prior to the invasion of Israel by the Babylonians. These passages lead up to the vision of the purged, perfected temple of the Messianic Kingdom in Ez. 40 – 48. The ‘men of sin’ which Ezekiel saw within the temple were the “elders of the house of Israel”, the corrupted priesthood. The connection with 2 Thess. 2 suggests that in the last days, before the final neo-Babylonian holocaust, the elders of both natural and spiritual Israel will practice corruption in the temple / ecclesia of God.

There is an incident in the experience of Nehemiah, Governor of Jerusalem (a type of Christ, Mt. 2:6) which points forward to all this. Nehemiah (cp. Jesus) returned to the Emperor to have his authority over Jerusalem confirmed (cp. Christ to God, Mt. 25:19; Lk. 19:12,13). He then returned to the holy land, to find Israel indifferent to the state of God’s house, taken up with the petty materialism of daily life, with the result that the Arab Tobiah had been permitted by the elders of Israel to live in the chambers of the house of God (Neh. 13:6-9). Nehemiah in fury expels him and “cleansed the chambers”, throwing out all his things, after the pattern of Christ cleansing the temple (Mt. 21:12). Along with the type of Moses returning from the mount to a corrupted Israel, this points forward to the state of affairs at Christ’s return.

Is. 8:5 speaks of an “image of jealousy” being placed in the temple by the Jews just prior to the Babylonian invasion. This was the original image behind the Lord’s prophecy of the abomination of desolation being placed in the temple by the Romans. And yet His prophecy has a distinct latter day reference. All this points to a similar literal fulfillment in some way, in a literal latter day temple.

The Antichrist In Daniel

Without doubt, Daniel’s prophecies repeatedly refer to a specific, evil individual of the last days. These prophecies have largely, in my view, been misinterpreted through seeking to limit their fulfillment to Antiochus or some other person who persecuted the Jews before the time of Christ. Daniel 7:25 speaks of an individual who will persecute the Lord’s people for three and a half years, and change “times and law”- as if he is a fake Jesus Christ, who likewise changed the Law. This person arises in the time of the end (Daniel 8:23)- and this phrase in Daniel always has some reference to the time of the Lord’s return. He is to arise out of the Syrian Kingdom, i.e. part of the divided empire of Alexander the Great. The time when he will arise will be the time when “iniquity is come to the full”- which fits most comfortably with the very last days. Daniel 8:17,19 make it clear: “The vision pertains to the time of the end… the final period of indignation… the appointed time of the end.” Note that Antiochus Epiphanes didn’t reign at the end  of the Syrian dynasty [as sometimes claimed].

Daniel 9

Daniel 9 gives more detail about this person. Keil translates Daniel 9:26,27:  “The city, together with the sanctuary, shall be destroyed by the people of the prince who shall come, who shall find his end in the flood; but war shall continue to the end, since destruction is irrevocably decreed. That prince shall force a strong covenant for one week on the mass of the people, and during half a week he shall take away the service of sacrifice, and borne on the wings of idol abominations [cp. Ps. 18:10, where the true God is also borne on wings] shall carry on a desolating rule, till the firmly decreed judgment shall pour itself upon him as one desolated” (Commentary   p. 373). Antichrist’s destruction with the flood [note the definite article] comfortably connects with the Lord’s usage of the flood as a symbol of the latter day judgment upon His enemies (Mt. 24:39). The person spoken about will be involved in war until the end of his days; he will die at the end of his military campaign against God’s people. This was certainly not true of Titus in AD70.

Very similar language to Daniel 9:26 occurs in Is. 10:23: “For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, shall the Lord of Hosts execute in the midst of the land”. The context is speaking of “the Assyrian”. The same language of the last days is found in Is. 28:22: “a final destruction on all the earth.” The latter day antichrist is therefore modelled upon the “Assyrian” of the Old Testament. Note that “the man of sin” of 2 Thess. 2:8 alludes to “the wicked one” of Is. 11:4 LXX, who is, again, “the Assyrian”! So it would appear very likely that the antichrist figure is somehow associated with ‘Assyria’. And what’s going on in Iraq and the territory of ‘Assyria’ right now is gripping the whole world’s attention.  Note how the Assyrian is described in Is. 30:31-33 as being thrown into a lake of fire- just as the future beast will be (Rev. 19:20).

Daniel 11,12

But Daniel 11 and 12 [which are one vision, chapter 12 explaining the details of chapter 11] provide yet more insight. The antichrist rages against God’s people for 1290 days after he sets up the abomination that makes desolate- until he is destroyed by the Lord’s coming (Dan. 11:31, cp. 12:11). The Lord Jesus specifically interprets the “abomination that makes desolate” as occurring in the last days. Therefore Dan. 11:31- the first reference to this abomination- must refer to a time after the time of Jesus in the first century. The whole section Daniel 11:31 – Daniel 12:11 gives more detail about this “abomination” and the person and power who places it. That whole passage therefore speaks of the final tribulation- defined as three and a half years in Daniel 12. Yet it’s clear enough that the events in Daniel 11 prior to verse 21 speak of things in Old Testament history. There’s therefore, I suggest, a sudden jump in fulfillment at Dan. 11:21, reaching ahead to the last days. This is the section which starts speaking of the “vile person” who places the “abomination that makes desolate”, and finally meets his end in the final conflict of Dan. 11:45. But this kind of ‘sudden jump’ is not at all uncommon in Old Testament prophecy; in fact, it’s a fairly common feature of Daniel’s prophecies in particular! Daniel 2 presents an outline of the powers that would dominate Israel, and then jumps to the very last days. And the later prophecies in Daniel which expand upon that opening vision do just the same.

The evil man who places the desolating abomination meets his end in war (Dan. 11:45)- just as the same individual does in Dan. 8:23. And this leads in to the resurrection and judgment at the Lord’s return (Dan. 12:1,2). Likewise the Lord predicted that the final tribulation- which He says is that prophesied in Daniel- would be followed “immediately” by His return (Mt. 24:29). So the Lord’s own interpretation of Daniel 11 leaves us with no doubt that the whole section about the abomination and the individual responsible for it applies to our last days. Any partial fulfillment it may have had in Antiochus Epiphanes, Nero or Titus only makes those men prototypes of the final abuser yet to come.

So Who Is He?

As with so many prophecies, the intention of this prophecy is surely so that when the prophecy is fulfilled, then we will know. It’s not intended to pinpoint the individual far ahead of time. What we do know from Daniel 11 is that the “vile person” is also called “the king of the north”, and this is a common title for the ruler of Assyria- present day Iran / Iraq / Kurdistan / Syria. And we’ve shown above that Old Testament passages about the ruler of Assyria are the basis for other ‘antichrist’ prophecies of the New Testament. The phrase “vile person” in Dan. 11:21 is interesting in itself. If the first usage of a word in Scripture is significant, then Gen. 25:34 is indeed helpful here- because it is used of Esau, father of many of the Arab tribes. And it recurs in describing Edom in Obadiah 2, Goliath the Philistine / Palestinian (1 Sam. 17:42), “Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arabian” (Neh. 2:19), and Haman the persecutor of the Jews (Esther 3:6). All these men were Arab prototypes of the “vile person”, the ruler of Assyria, who is to again persecute God’s people.

This latter day “king of the north” will be troubled by “ships from the West”, will have a conflict over the land of Israel with his opposite number, “the king of the south”; will sit at a conference table and be deceitful; and will persecute God’s people, and receive assistance from those of them who deny the faith. He will rise to power in the name of “peace” (Dan. 11:21); connecting with the ‘peace and safety’ cry which there will be just prior to the Lord’s return, according to 1 Thess. 5. He will rise to power suddenly from a weak and broken people [Iraq?] (Daniel 11:23). During all this, there will be energetic preaching of the Truth (Dan. 11:33; 12:3). Quite how all this will work out is impossible and futile to speculate upon. But when it happens, those who understand Daniel, as the Lord bids us to, will understand. And this is the purpose of this study- “let him that readeth understand” was the Lord’s comment about studying these very prophecies!

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The Devil And His Angels – The Real Devil

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Journey Of Souls

by Michael Newton

“While the absolute reality of the spirit world appears to remain constant in the minds of people in hypnosis, their references to other physical dimensions do not. I have the sense that universes other than our own are created for the purpose of providing environments suitable for the growth of souls with beings we can’t even imagine. One advanced subject told me he had lived on a number of worlds in his long existence, never dividing his soul more than twice at one time. Some adult lives lasted only months in Earth time for him, due to local planetary conditions and short life spans of the dominant life form. While speaking of a “paradise planet,” with few people and a quieter, simpler version of Earth, he added this world was not far from Earth. “Oh,” I interrupted, “then it must only be a few light years from Earth?” He patiently explained that the planet was not in our universe, but closer to Earth than many planets in our own galaxy.

It is important for the reader to understand that when people do recall living on other worlds they seem not to be limited by the dimensional constraints of our universe. When souls travel to planets intergalactically or interdimensionally, they measure the trip by the time it takes them to reach their destinations through the tunnel effect from the spirit world. The size of the spatial region involved and the relative position of worlds to each other are also considerations. After listening to references about multiple dimensional realities from some of my subjects, I am left with the impression they believe there is a confluence of all these dimensional streams into one great river of the spirit world. If I could stand back and take apart all these alternate realities seated in the minds of my cases, it would be like peeling an artichoke of all its layers down to one heart at the core.

I had been questioning Thece for quite a while and I could see she was growing tired. Few subjects can sustain this level of spiritual receptivity for very long. I decided to end the session with a few questions about the genesis of all creation.

Dr. N: Thece, I want to close by asking you more about the source. You have been a soul for a long time, so how do you see yourself relating to the oneness of creation you told me about earlier?

S: (long pause) By sensations of movement. In the beginning there is an outward migration of our soul energy from the source. Afterward, our lives are spent moving inward … toward cohesion and the uniting ..

Dr. N: You make this process seem as though a living organism was expanding and contracting.

S: … There is an explosive release … then a returning … yes, the source pulsates.

Dr. N: And you are moving toward the center of this energy source?

S: There really is no center. The source is all around us as if we were … inside a

beating heart.

Dr. N: But, you did say you were moving back to a point of origin as your soul

advanced in knowledge?

S: Yes, when I was thrust outward I was a child. Now I’m being drawn back as my adolescence fades …

Dr. N: Back where?

S: Further inside the source.

Dr. N: Perhaps you could describe this energy source through the use of colors to explain soul movement and the scope of creation.

S: (sighs) It’s as if souls are all part of a massive electrical explosion which produces … a halo effect. In this … circular halo is a dark purple light which flares out … lightening to a whiteness at the edges. Our awareness begins at the edges of brilliant light and as we grow … we become more engulfed in the darker light.

Dr. N: I find it hard to visualize a god of creation as cold, dark light.

S: That’s because I am not close enough to conjunction to explain it well. The dark light is itself a … covering, beyond which we feel an intense warmth … full of a knowing presence which is everywhere for us and… alive!

Dr. N: What was it like when you were first aware of your identity as a soul after being pushed out to the rim of this halo?

S: To be… is the same as watching the first flower of spring open and the flower is you. And, as it opens more, you become aware of other flowers in a glorious field and there is … unbounded joy.

Dr. N: If this explosive, multi-colored energy source collapses in on itself, will all the flowers eventually die?

S: Nothing is collapsing … the source is endless. As souls we will never die-we know that, somehow. As we coalesce, our increasing wisdom makes the source stronger.

Dr. N: Is that the reason the source desires to perform this exercise?

S: Yes, to give life to us so we can arrive at a state of perfection.

Dr. N: Why does a source, who is ostensibly perfect already, need to create further intelligence which is less than perfect?

S: To help the creator create. In this way, by self-transformation and rising to

higher plateaus of fulfillment, we add to the building blocks of life.

Dr. N: Were souls forced to break away from the source and come to places like

Earth because of some sort of original sin or fall from grace in the spirit world?

S: That’s nonsense. We came to be … magnified … in the beautiful variety of creation.

Dr. N: Thece, I want you to listen to me carefully. If the source needs to be made stronger, or more wise, by using a division of its divine energy to create lesser intelligence which it hopes will magnify-doesn’t this suggest it lacks full perfection itself?

S: (pause) The source creates for fulfillment of itself.

Dr. N: That’s my point. How can that which is absolute become more absolute unless something is lacking?

S: (hesitates) That which we see to be … our source … is all we can know, and we think what the creator desires is to express itself through us by … birthing.

Dr. N: And do you think the source is actually made stronger by our existence as souls?

S: (long pause) I see the creator’s perfection … maintained and enriched… by sharing the possibility of perfection with us and this is the ultimate extension of itself

Dr. N: So the source starts out by deliberately creating imperfect souls and

imperfect life forms for these souls and watches what happens in order to extend itself?

S: Yes, and we have to have faith in this decision and trust the process of returning to the origin of life. One has to be starving to appreciate food, to be cold to understand the blessings of warmth, and to be children to see the value of the parent. The transformation gives us purpose.

Dr. N: Do you want to be a parent of souls?

S: … Participation in the conception of ourselves is … a dream of mine.

Dr. N: If our spirits did not experience physical life, would we ever know of these things you are telling me about?

S: We would know of them, but not about them. It would be as if your spiritual energy were told to play piano scales with only one note.

Dr. N: And do you believe if the source didn’t create souls to nurture and grow, its sublime energy would shrink from a lack of expression?

S: (sighs) Perhaps that is its purpose. With this last prophetic statement by Thece, I ended the session. As I brought this subject out of her deep trance, it was as though she were returning to me from across time and space. As she sat quietly focusing her eyes around my office, I expressed my appreciation for the opportunity of working with her on such an advanced level. Smiling, the lady said if she had any idea of the grilling in store for her, she might well have refused to work with me.

As we said goodbye, I thought about her last statements concerning the source of life. In ancient Persia the Sufis had a saying that if the creator represents absolute good, and therefore absolute beauty, it is the nature of beauty to desire manifestation.

Life Selection

THERE comes that time when the soul must once again leave the sanctuary of the spirit world for another trip to Earth. This decision is not an easy one. Souls must prepare to leave a world of total wisdom, where they exist in a blissful state of freedom, for the physical and mental demands of a human body.

We have seen how tired souls can be when reentering the spirit world. Many don’t want to think about returning to Earth again.

This is especially true when we have not come close to our goals at the end of a physical life. Once back in the spirit world, souls have misgivings about even temporarily leaving a world of self-understanding, comradeship, and compassion to go to a planetary environment of uncertainty and fear brought about by

aggressive, competing humans. Despite having family and friends on Earth, many incarnated souls feel lonely and anonymous among large impersonal populations. I hope my cases show the opposite is true in the spirit world, where our souls are involved in the most intimate sharing on an everlasting basis. Our spiritual identity is known and appreciated by a multitude of other entities, whose support is never ending.

The rejuvenation of our energy and personal assessment of one’s Self takes longer for some souls than others, but eventually the soul is motivated to start the process of incarnation. While our spiritual environment is hard to leave, as souls we also remember the physical pleasures of life on Earth with fondness and even nostalgia.

When the wounds of a past life are healed and we are again totally at one with

ourselves, we feel the pull of having a physical expression for our identity. Training sessions with our counselors and peer groups have provided a collaborative spiritual effort to prepare us for the next life. Our karma of past deeds towards humanity and our mistakes and achievements have al

l been evaluated with an eye toward the best course of future endeavors. The soul must now assimilate all this information and take purposeful action based upon three primary decisions:

* Am I ready for a new physical life?

* What specific lessons do I want to undertake to advance my learning and


* Where should I go, and who shall I be in my next life for the best opportunity to

work on my goals?

Older souls incarnate less, regardless of the population demands of their assigned planets. When a world dies, those entitieswith unfinished business move on to another world which has a suitable life form for the kind of work they have been doing. Cycles of incarnation for the eternal soul seem to be regulated more by the internal desires of a particular soul, than by the urgency of host bodies evolving in a universe of planets. Nevertheless, Earth certainly has an increasing need for souls. Today, we have over five billion people. Demographers vary in their calculations on how many individuals have lived on Earth in the last 200,000 years. The average estimate is some 50 billion people. This figure, which I think is low, does not signify the number of visitations by different souls. Bear in mind the same souls continue to reincarnate, and there are those who occupy more than one body at a time. There are reincarnationists who believe the number of people living on Earth today is close to the total number of souls who ever lived here. The frequency of incarnation on Earth by souls is uneven. Earth clearly has more need for souls today than in the past. Population estimates in 1 AD are around 200 million. By 1800, humans had quadrupled, and after only 170 more years, quadrupled again. Between 1970 and 2010, the world’s population is expected to double once more.

When I study the incarnation chronology of a client, I find there is usually a long span of hundreds, even thousands, of years between their lives in Paleolithic nomadic cultures. With the introduction of agriculture and domesticated animals in the Neolithic Age, from 7,000 to 5,000 years ago, my subjects report living more frequent lives. Still, their lives are often spaced as much as 500 years apart. With the rise of cities, trade, and more available food, I see the incarnation schedules of souls increasing with a growing population. Between 1000 and 1500 AD, my clients live an average of once in two centuries. After 1700,this changes to once in a century. By the 1900s, living more than one life in a century is common among my cases.

It has been argued these increases in soul incarnations only appear to be so because past life recall improves as people in hypnosis get closer to their current lives. This may be true to some extent, but if a life is important it will be vividly remembered at any age in time. Without doubt, the enormous population increase on Earth is the basic cause for souls coming here more often. Is there a possibility that the inventory of souls slated for Earth could be strained by this surge in human reproduction?

When I ask clients about the inventory of available souls, they tell me I should

worry more about our planet dying from over-population than exhausting the

reserve of souls. There is the conviction that new souls are always available to fill

any expanding population requirements. If our planet is just one example among all other intelligent populations which exist in this universe, the inventory of souls must truly be astronomical.

I have said souls do have the freedom to choose when, where, and who they want to be in their physical lives. Certain souls spend less time in the spirit world in order to accelerate development, while others are very reluctant to leave. There is no question but what our guides exert great influence in this matter. Just as we were given an intake interview in the orientation phase right after death, there are preparatory exit interviews by spiritual advisors to determine our readiness for rebirth. The case which follows illustrates a typical spiritual scene with a lower-level soul.

Case 24

Dr. N: When do you first realize that you might be returning to Earth?

S: A soft voice comes into my mind and says, “It’s about time, don’t you think?”

Dr. N: Who is this voice?

S: My instructor. Some of us have to be given a push when they think we are ready again.

Dr. N: Do you feel you are about ready to return to Earth?

S: Yes, I think so … I have prepared for it. But my studies are going to take such a long time in earth years before I’m done. It’s kind of overwhelming.

Dr. N: And do you think you will still be going to Earth when you near the end of

your incarnations?

S: (long pause) Ah … maybe no … there is another world besides Earth … but with Earth people …

Dr. N: What does this mean?

S: Earth will have fewer people … less crowded … it’s not clear to me.

Dr. N: Where do you think you might be then?

S: I’m getting the impression there is colonization someplace else-it’s not clear to


Note: The opposite of past life regression is post life progression, which enables

some subjects to see snatches of the future as incomplete scenes. For instance, some have told me Earth’s population will be greatly reduced by the end of the twenty-second century, partially due to adverse soil and atmospheric changes. They also see people living in odd-looking domed buildings. Details about the future are always rather limited, due, I suspect, to built-in amnesia from karmic constraints. I’ll have more to say about this with the next case.

Dr. N: Let’s go back to what you were saying about the instructors giving people a push to leave the spirit world. Would you prefer that they not do this?

S: Oh … I’d like to stay… but the instructors don’t want us hanging around here too long or we will get into a rut.

Dr. N: Could you insist on staying?

S: Well … yes … the instructors don’t force you to leave because they are so gentle. (laughs) But they have their ways of …encouraging you when the time comes.

Dr. N: Do you know of anyone who didn’t want to be reborn again on Earth for any reason?

S: Yes, my friend Mark. He said he had nothing to contribute anymore. He was sick of life on Earth and didn’t want to go back.

Dr. N: Had he lived many lives?

S: No, not really. But he wasn’t adjusting well in them.

Dr. N: What did the teachers do with him? Was he allowed to stay in the spirit


S: (reflectively) We choose to be reborn when it is decided we are ready. They don’t force you to do anything. Mark was shown he did benefit others around him.

Dr. N: What happened to Mark?

S: After some more … indoctrination … Mark realized he had been wrong about his abilities and finally he went back to Earth.

Dr. N: Indoctrination! This makes me think of coercion.

S: (disturbed by my remark) It’s not that way at all! Mark was just discouraged,

and needed the confidence to keep trying.

Note: Case 10 in Chapter Four on displaced souls told us about how souls who had absorbed too much negative energy from Earth were “remodeled.”

Case 22 also mentioned the need for restoration with some damaged souls. These are more extreme alterations than the basic reframing apparently used on Mark’s tired soul.

Dr. N: If the guides don’t force you, could a soul absolutely refuse to be reborn?

S: (pause) Yes … I guess you could stay here and never be reborn if you hated it that much. But the instructors told Mark that without life in a body, his studies would take longer. If you lose having direct experience, you miss a great deal.

Dr. N: How about the reverse situation where a soul insists on returning to Earth

immediately, say after an untimely death?

S: I have seen that, too. It’s an impulsive reaction and does wear off after a while.

The instructors get you to see that wanting to hurry back someplace as a new baby wouldn’t change the circumstances of your death. It might be different if you could be reborn as an adult right away in the same situation. Eventually, everyone realizes they must rest and reflect.

Dr. N: Well, give me your final thoughts about the prospect of living again.

S: I’m excited about it. I would have no satisfaction without my physical lives.

Dr. N: When you are ready for a new incarnation, what do you do?

S: I go to a special place. Once a soul has decided to incarnate again, the next stage in the return process is to be directed to the place of life selection. Souls consider when and where they want to go on Earth before making a decision on who they will be in their new life. Because of this spiritual practice, I have divided life selection and our final choice of a body into two chapters for ease of understanding.

The selection of a time and place for incarnation and who we want to be are not

completely separate decisions. However, we start by having the opportunity of

viewing how we might fit into certain environments in future time segments. Then our attention is directed to people living in these places. I was a little distracted by this procedure until I realized a soul is largely influenced by cultural conditions and events, as well as by the participants in these events, during a span of chronological time. I have come to believe that the spirit world, as a whole, is not functionally uniform. All spiritual regions are seen by traveling souls as having the same ethereal properties, but with different applications. As an illustration, the space of orientation for incoming souls could be contrasted to the space of life selection for those who are leaving. Both involve life eval

uations for souls in transit which include scenes from Earth, but there the resemblance ends. Orientation spaces are said to be small, intimate conference areas designed to make a newly arrived soul comfortable, but our mental attitude in this space can be somewhat defensive. This is because

there is the feeling we might have done better with life. A guide is always directly interacting with us.

On the other hand, when we enter the space of life selection, we are full of hope,

promise, and lofty expectations. Here souls are virtually alone, with their guides out of sight, while evaluating new life options. This hectic, stimulating place is described as being much larger than other spiritual study areas. Case 22 considered it a world unto itself, where transcendent energy alters time to allow for planetary study.

While some spiritual locales are difficult for my subjects to describe, most love to

talk about the place of life selection, and they use remarkably similar descriptions. I am told it resembles a movie theater which allows souls to see themselves in the future, playing different roles in various settings.

Before leaving, souls will have selected one scenario for themselves. Imagine being given a dress rehearsal before the actual performance of a new life. To tell us about it, I have picked a male subject who is well acquainted with the way his soul is assisted in making appropriate decisions.


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The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival

Sir John Glubb, better known as Glubb Pasha, was born in 1897, and served in France in the First World War from 1915 to 1918. In 1926 he left the regular army to serve the Iraq Government.

From 1939 to 1956, he commanded the famous Jordan Arab Legion. Since retirement, he has published sixteen books, chiefly on the Middle East, and has lectured widely.




John Bagot Glubb was born in 1897, his father being a regular officer in the Royal Engineers.

At the age of four he left England for Mauritius, where his father was posted for a three-year tour of duty.

At the age of ten he was sent to school for a year in Switzerland. These youthful travels may have opened his mind to the outside world at an early age.

He entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in September 1914, and was commissioned in the Royal Engineers in April 1915.

He served throughout the first World War in France and Belgium, being wounded three times and awarded the Military Cross.

In 1920 he volunteered for service in Iraq, as a regular officer, but in 1926 resigned his commission and accepted an administrative post under the Iraq Government.

In 1930, however, he signed a contract to serve the Transjordan Government (now Jordan).

From 1939 to 1956 he commanded the famous Jordan Arab Legion, which was in reality the Jordan Army.

Since his retirement he has published seventeen books, chiefly on the Middle East, and has lectured widely in Britain, the United States and Europe.


As we pass through life, we learn by experience.

We look back on our behavior when we were young and think how foolish we were. In the same way our family, our community and our town endeavor to avoid the mistakes made by our predecessors.

The experiences of the human race have been recorded, in more or less detail, for some four thousand years. If we attempt to study such a period of time in as many countries as possible, we seem to discover the same patterns constantly repeated under widely differing conditions of climate, culture and religion.

Surely, we ask ourselves, if we studied calmly and impartially the history of human institutions and development over these four thousand years, should we not reach conclusions which would assist to solve our problems today?

For everything that is occurring around us has happened again and again before.

No such conception ever appears to have entered into the minds of our historians. In general, historical teaching in schools is limited to this small island. We endlessly mull over the Tudors and the Stewarts, the Battle of Crecy, and Guy Fawkes.

Perhaps this narrowness is due to our examination system, which necessitates the careful definition of a syllabus which all children must observe.

I remember once visiting a school for mentally handicapped children.
“Our children do not have to take examinations,” the headmaster told me, ”and so we are able to teach them things which will be really useful to them in life.”
However this may be, the thesis which I wish to propound is that priceless lessons could be learned if the history of the past four thousand years could be thoroughly and impartially studied.

In these two articles, which first appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine, I have attempted briefly to sketch some of the kinds of lessons which I believe we could learn.

My plea is that history should be the history of the human race, not of one small country or period.

The Fate of Empires

I. Learning from history
‘The only thing we learn from history,’ it has been said, ‘is that men never learn from history’,
…a sweeping generalization perhaps, but one which the chaos in the world today goes far to confirm.

What then can be the reason why, in a society which claims to probe every problem, the bases of history are still so completely unknown?

Several reasons for the futility of our historical studies may be suggested.
First, our historical work is limited to short periods – the history of our own country, or that of some past age which, for some reason, we hold in respect.

Second, even within these short periods, the slant we give to our narrative is governed by our own vanity rather than by objectivity.

If we are considering the history of our own country, we write at length of the periods when our ancestors were prosperous and victorious, but we pass quickly over their shortcomings or their defeats.

Our people are represented as patriotic heroes, their enemies as grasping imperialists, or subversive rebels. In other words, our national histories are propaganda, not well- balanced investigations.

Third, in the sphere of world history, we study certain short, usually unconnected, periods, which fashion at certain epochs has made popular.

Greece 500 years before Christ, and the Roman Republic and early Roman Empire are cases in point.

The intervals between the ‘great periods’ are neglected. Recently Greece and Rome have become largely discredited, and history tends to become increasingly the parochial history of our own countries.
To derive any useful instruction from history, it seems to me essential first of all to grasp the principle that history, to be meaningful, must be the history of the human race.

For history is a continuous process, gradually developing, changing and turning back, but in general moving forward in a single mighty stream.

Any useful lessons to be derived must be learned by the study of the whole flow of human development, not by the selection of short periods here and there in one country or another.

Every age and culture is derived from its predecessors, adds some contribution of its own, and passes it on to its successors.

If we boycott various periods of history, the origins of the new cultures which succeeded them cannot be explained.

Physical science has expanded its knowledge by building on the work of its predecessors, and by making millions of careful experiments, the results of which are meticulously recorded.

Such methods have not yet been employed in the study of world history. Our piecemeal historical work is still mainly dominated by emotion and prejudice.

II. The lives of empires

If we desire to ascertain the laws which govern the rise and fall of empires, the obvious course is to investigate the imperial experiments recorded in history, and to Endeavour to deduce from them any lessons which seem to be applicable to them all.

The word ’empire’, by association with the British Empire, is visualized by some people as an organization consisting of a home- country in Europe and ‘colonies’ in other continents.

In this essay, the term ’empire’ is used to signify a great power, often called today a superpower. Most of the empires in history have been large landblocks, almost without overseas possessions.

We possess a considerable amount of information on many empires recorded in history, and of their vicissitudes and the lengths of their lives, for example:

The nation

Dates of rise and fall

859-612 B.C.
Duration in years

538-330 B.C.
(Cyrus and his descendants)

331-100 B.C.
(Alexander and his successors)

Roman Republic
260-27 B.C.
Roman Empire
27 B.C.-A.D. 180
Arab Empire
A.D. 634-880
Mameluke Empire
Ottoman Empire
Romanov Russia

This list calls for certain comments.

The present writer is exploring the facts, not trying to prove anything. The dates given are largely arbitrary.

Empires do not usually begin or end on a certain date. There is normally a gradual period of expansion and then a period of decline.

The resemblance in the duration of these great powers may be queried. Human affairs are subject to many chances, and it is not to be expected that they could be calculated with mathematical accuracy.

Nevertheless, it is suggested that there is sufficient resemblance between the life periods of these different empires to justify further study.

The division of Rome into two periods may be thought unwarranted. The first, or republican, period dates from the time when Rome became the mistress of Italy, and ends with the accession of Augustus.

The imperial period extends from the accession of Augustus to the death of Marcus Aurelius.

It is true that the empire survived nominally for more than a century after this date, but it did so in constant confusion, rebellions, civil wars and barbarian invasions.

Not all empires endured for their full life-span. The Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar, for example, was overthrown by Cyrus, after a life duration of only some seventy-four years.

An interesting deduction from the figures seems to be that the duration of empires does not depend on the speed of travel or the nature of weapons. The Assyrians marched on foot and fought with spears and bow and arrows. The British used artillery, railways and ocean-going ships. Yet the two empires lasted for approximately the same periods.

There is a tendency nowadays to say that this is the jet-age, and consequently there is nothing for us to learn from past empires. Such an attitude seems to be erroneous.

It is tempting to compare the lives of empires with those of human beings.

We may choose a figure and say that the average life of a human being is seventy years. Not all human beings live exactly seventy years. Some die in infancy, others are killed in accidents in middle life, some survive to the age of eighty or ninety.

Nevertheless, in spite of such exceptions, we are justified in saying that seventy years is a fair estimate of the average person’s expectation of life.

We may perhaps at this stage be allowed to draw certain conclusions:

In spite of the accidents of fortune, and the apparent circumstances of the human race at different epochs, the periods of duration of different empires at varied epochs show a remarkable similarity.

Immense changes in the technology of transport or in methods of warfare do not seem to affect the life-expectation of an empire.

The changes in the technology of transport and of war have, however, affected the shape of empires. The Assyrians, marching on foot, could only conquer their neighbors, who were accessible by land – the Medes, the Babylonians, the Persians and the Egyptians.

The British, making use of ocean-going ships, conquered many countries and sub- continents, which were accessible to them by water – North America, India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand – but they never succeeded in conquering their neighbors, France, Germany and Spain.

But, although the shapes of the Assyrian and the British Empires were entirely different, both lasted about the same length of time.

III. The human yardstick

What then, we may ask, can have been the factor which caused such an extraordinary similarity in the duration of empires, under such diverse conditions, and such utterly different technological achievements?

One of the very few units of measurement which have not seriously changed since the Assyrians is the human ‘generation’, a period of about twenty-five years.

Thus a period of 250 years would represent about ten gene- rations of people. A closer examination of the characteristics of the rise and fall of great nations may emphasize the possible significance of the sequence of generations.

Let us then attempt to examine the stages in the lives of such powerful nations.

IV. Stage one – The outburst

Again and again in history we find a small nation, treated as insignificant by its contemporaries, suddenly emerging from its homeland and overrunning large areas of the world.

Prior to Philip (359-336 B.C.), Macedon had been an insignificant state to the north of Greece. Persia was the great power of the time, completely dominating the area from Eastern Europe to India. Yet by 323 B.C., thirty-six years after the accession of Philip, the Persian Empire had ceased to exist, and the Macedonian Empire extended from the Danube to India, including Egypt.

This amazing expansion may perhaps he attributed to the genius of Alexander the Great, but this cannot have been the sole reason; for although after his death everything went wrong – the Macedonian generals fought one another and established rival empires – Macedonian pre-eminence survived for 231 years.

In the year A.D. 600, the world was divided between two superpower groups as it has been for the past fifty years between Soviet Russia and the West. The two powers were the eastern Roman Empire and the Persian Empire.

The Arabs were then the despised and backward inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula. They consisted chiefly of wandering tribes, and had no government, no constitution and no army. Syria, Palestine, Egypt and North Africa were Roman provinces, Iraq was part of Persia.

The Prophet Mohammed preached in Arabia from A.D. 613 to 632, when he died. In 633, the Arabs burst out of their desert peninsula, and simultaneously attacked the two super-powers.

Within twenty years, the Persian Empire had ceased to exist. Seventy years after the death of the Prophet, the Arabs had established an empire extending from the Atlantic to the plains of Northern India and the frontiers of China.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Mongols were a group of savage tribes in the steppes of Mongolia. In 1211, Genghis Khan invaded China.

By 1253, the Mongols had established an empire extending from Asia Minor to the China Sea, one of the largest empires the world has ever known.

The Arabs ruled the greater part of Spain for 780 years, from 712 A.D. to 1492 (780 years back in British history would take us to 1196 and King Richard Cœur de Lion.) During these eight centuries, there had been no Spanish nation, the petty kings of Aragon and Castile alone holding on in the mountains.

The agreement between Ferdinand and Isabella and Christopher Columbus was signed immediately after the fall of Granada, the last Arab kingdom in Spain, in 1492. Within fifty years, Cortez had conquered Mexico, and Spain was the world’s greatest empire.

Examples of the sudden outbursts by which empires are born could be multiplied indefinitely.

These random illustrations must suffice.

V. Characteristics of the outburst

These sudden outbursts are usually characterized by an extraordinary display of energy and courage.

The new conquerors are normally poor, hardy and enterprising and above all aggressive. The decaying empires which they overthrow are wealthy but defensive-minded. In the time of Roman greatness, the legions used to dig a ditch round their camps at night to avoid surprise.

But the ditches were mere earthworks, and between them wide spaces were left through which the Romans could counter-attack. But as Rome grew older, the earthworks became high walls, through which access was given only by narrow gates.

Counterattacks were no longer possible. The legions were now passive defenders.

But the new nation is not only distinguished by victory in battle, but by unresting enterprise in every field. Men hack their way through jungles, climb mountains, or brave the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans in tiny cockle-shells.

The Arabs crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in A.D. 711 with 12,000 men, defeated a Gothic army of more than twice their strength, marched straight over 250 miles of unknown enemy territory and seized the Gothic capital of Toledo.

At the same stage in British history, Captain Cook discovered Australia. Fearless initiative characterizes such periods.

Other peculiarities of the period of the conquering pioneers are their readiness to improvise and experiment. Untrammeled by traditions, they will turn anything available to their purpose. If one method fails, they try something else.

Uninhibited by textbooks or book learning, action is their solution to every problem.

Poor, hardy, often half-starved and ill-clad, they abound in courage, energy and initiative, overcome every obstacle and always seem to be in control of the situation.

VI. The causes of race outbursts

The modern instinct is to seek a reason for everything, and to doubt the veracity of a statement for which a reason cannot be found.

So many examples can be given of the sudden eruption of an obscure race into a nation of conquerors that the truth of the phenomenon cannot be held to be doubtful. To assign a cause is more difficult.

Perhaps the easiest explanation is to assume that the poor and obscure race is tempted by the wealth of the ancient civilization, and there would undoubtedly appear to be an element of greed for loot in barbarian invasions.

Such a motivation may be divided into two classes. The first is mere loot, plunder and rape, as, for example, in the case of Attila and the Huns, who ravaged a great part of Europe from A.D. 450 to 453.

However, when Attila died in the latter year, his empire fell apart and his tribes returned to Eastern Europe.

Many of the barbarians who founded dynasties in Western Europe on the ruins of the Roman Empire, however, did so out of admiration for Roman civilization, and themselves aspired to become Romans.

VII. A providential turnover?

Whatever causes may be given for the overthrow of great civilizations by barbarians, we can sense certain resulting benefits.

Every race on earth has distinctive characteristics. Some have been distinguished in philosophy, some in administration, some in romance, poetry or religion, some in their legal system.

During the pre-eminence of each culture, its distinctive characteristics are carried by it far and wide across the world.

If the same nation were to retain its domination indefinitely, its peculiar qualities would permanently characterize the whole human race. Under the system of empires each lasting for 250 years, the sovereign race has time to spread its particular virtues far and wide.

Then, however, another people, with entirely different peculiarities, takes its place, and its virtues and accomplishments are likewise disseminated.

By this system, each of the innumerable races of the world enjoys a period of greatness, during which its peculiar qualities are placed at the service of mankind.

To those who believe in the existence of God, as the Ruler and Director of human affairs, such a system may appear as a manifestation of divine wisdom, tending towards the slow and ultimate perfection of humanity.

VIII. The course of empire

The first stage of the life of a great nation, therefore, after its outburst, is a period of amazing initiative, and almost incredible enterprise, courage and hardihood.

These qualities, often in a very short time, produce a new and formidable nation. These early victories, however, are won chiefly by reckless bravery and daring initiative.

The ancient civilization thus attacked will have defended itself by its sophisticated weapons, and by its military organization and discipline.

The barbarians quickly appreciate the advantages of these military methods and adopt them. As a result, the second stage of expansion of the new empire consists of more organized, disciplined and professional campaigns.

In other fields, the daring initiative of the original conquerors is maintained – in geographical exploration, for example: pioneering new countries, penetrating new forests, climbing unexplored mountains, and sailing uncharted seas.

The new nation is confident, optimistic and perhaps contemptuous of the ‘decadent’ races which it has subjugated.

The methods employed tend to be practical and experimental, both in government and in warfare, for they are not tied by centuries of tradition, as happens in ancient empires.

Moreover, the leaders are free to use their own improvisations, not having studied politics or tactics in schools or in textbooks.

IX. U.S.A. in the stage of the pioneers

In the case of the United States of America, the pioneering period did not consist of a barbarian conquest of an effete civilization, but of the conquest of barbarian peoples.

Thus, viewed from the outside, every example seems to be different. But viewed from the standpoint of the great nation, every example seems to be similar.

The United States arose suddenly as a new nation, and its period of pioneering was spent in the conquest of a vast continent, not an ancient empire.

Yet the subsequent life history of the United States has followed the standard pattern which we shall attempt to trace – the periods of the pioneers, of commerce, of affluence, of intellectualism and of decadence.

X. Commercial expansion

The conquest of vast areas of land and their subjection to one government automatically acts as a stimulant to commerce.

Both merchants and goods can be exchanged over considerable distances. Moreover, if the empire be an extensive one, it will include a great variety of climates, producing extremely varied products, which the different areas will wish to exchange with one another.

The speed of modern methods of transportation tends to create in us the impression that far-flung commerce is a modern development, but this is not the case.

Objects made in Ireland, Scandinavia and China have been found in the graves or the ruins of the Middle East, dating from 1,000 years before Christ.

The means of transport were slower, but, when a great empire was in control, commerce was freed from the innumerable shackles imposed upon it today by passports, import permits, customs, boycotts and political interference.

The Roman Empire extended from Britain to Syria and Egypt, a distance, in a direct line, of perhaps 2,700 miles. A Roman official, transferred from Britain to Syria, might spend six months on the journey.

Yet, throughout the whole distance, he would be travelling in the same country, with the same official language, the same laws, the same currency and the same administrative system.

Today, some twenty independent countries separate Britain from Syria, each with its own government, its own laws, politics, customs fees, passports and currencies, making commercial co-operation almost impossible. And this process of disintegration is still continuing.

Even within the small areas of the modern European nations, provincial movements demanding secession or devolution tend further to splinter the continent.

The present fashion for ‘independence’ has produced great numbers of tiny states in the world, some of them consisting of only one city or of a small island. This system is an insuperable obstacle to trade and cooperation.

The present European Economic Community is an attempt to secure commercial cooperation among small independent states over a large area, but the plan meets with many difficulties, due to the mutual jealousies of so many nations.

Even savage and militaristic empires promoted commerce, whether or not they intended to do so.

The Mongols were some of the most brutal military conquerors in history, massacring the entire populations of cities. Yet, in the thirteenth century, when their empire extended from Peking to Hungary, the caravan trade between China and Europe achieved a remarkable degree of prosperity – the whole journey was in the territory of one government.

In the eighth and ninth centuries, the caliphs of Baghdad achieved fabulous wealth owing to the immense extent of their territories, which constituted a single trade bloc.

The empire of the caliphs is now divided into some twenty-five separate ‘nations’.

XI. The pros and cons of empires

In discussing the life-story of the typical empire, we have digressed into a discussion of whether empires are useful or injurious to mankind.

We seem to have discovered that empires have certain advantages, particularly in the field of commerce, and in the establishment of peace and security in vast areas of the globe.

Perhaps we should also include the spread of varied cultures to many races.

The present infatuation for independence for ever smaller and smaller units will eventually doubtless be succeeded by new international empires.

The present attempts to create a European community may be regarded as a practical endeavor to constitute a new super-power, in spite of the fragmentation resulting from the craze for independence.
If it succeeds, some of the local independencies will have to be sacrificed.

If it fails, the same result may be attained by military conquest, or by the partition of Europe between rival super-powers.
The inescapable conclusion seems, however, to be that larger territorial units are a benefit to commerce and to public stability, whether the broader territory be achieved by voluntary association or by military action.

XII. Sea power

One of the more benevolent ways in which a super-power can promote both peace and commerce is by its command of the sea.

From Waterloo to 1914, the British Navy commanded the seas of the world. Britain grew rich, but she also made the Seas safe for the commerce of all nations, and prevented major wars for 100 years.

Curiously enough, the question of sea power was never clearly distinguished, in British politics during the last fifty years, from the question of imperial rule over other countries.

In fact, the two subjects are entirely distinct. Sea power does not offend small countries, as does military occupation.

If Britain had maintained her navy, with a few naval bases overseas in isolated islands, and had given independence to colonies which asked for it, the world might well be a more stable place today.

In fact, however, the navy was swept away in the popular outcry against imperialism.

XIII. The Age of Commerce

Let us now, however, return to the life- story of our typical empire.

We have already considered the age of outburst, when a little- regarded people suddenly bursts on to the world stage with a wild courage and energy.

Let us call it the Age of the Pioneers.

Then we saw that these new conquerors acquired the sophisticated weapons of the old empires, and adopted their regular systems of military organization and training. A great period of military expansion ensued, which we may call the Age of Conquests.

The conquests resulted in the acquisition of vast territories under one government, thereby automatically giving rise to commercial prosperity. We may call this the Age of Commerce.

The Age of Conquests, of course, overlaps the Age of Commerce.

The proud military traditions still hold sway and the great armies guard the frontiers, but gradually the desire to make money seems to gain hold of the public. During the military period, glory and honor were the principal objects of ambition.

To the merchant, such ideas are but empty words, which add nothing to the bank balance.

XIV. Art and luxury

The wealth which seems, almost without effort, to pour into the country enables the commercial classes to grow immensely rich.

How to spend all this money becomes a problem to the wealthy business community. Art, architecture and luxury find rich patrons. Splendid municipal buildings and wide streets lend dignity and beauty to the wealthy areas of great cities.

The rich merchants build themselves palaces, and money is invested in communications, highways, bridges, railways or hotels, according to the varied patterns of the ages.

The first half of the Age of Commerce appears to be peculiarly splendid.

The ancient virtues of courage, patriotism and devotion to duty are still in evidence. The nation is proud, united and full of self-confidence. Boys are still required, first of all, to be manly – to ride, to shoot straight and to tell the truth.

(It is remarkable what emphasis is placed, at this stage, on the manly virtue of truthfulness, for lying is cowardice – the fear of facing up to the situation.)

Boys’ schools are intentionally rough. Frugal eating, hard living, breaking the ice to have a bath and similar customs are aimed at producing a strong, hardy and fearless breed of men. Duty is the word constantly drummed into the heads of young people.

The Age of Commerce is also marked by great enterprise in the exploration for new forms of wealth.

Daring initiative is shown in the search for profitable enterprises in far corners of the earth, perpetuating to some degree the adventurous courage of the Age of Conquests.

XV. The Age of Affluence

There does not appear to be any doubt that money is the agent which causes the decline of this strong, brave and self-confident people.

The decline in courage, enterprise and a sense of duty is, however, gradual.

The first direction in which wealth injures the nation is a moral one. Money replaces honor and adventure as the objective of the best young men. Moreover, men do not normally seek to make money for their country or their community, but for them- selves.

Gradually, and almost imperceptibly, the Age of Affluence silences the voice of duty. The object of the young and the ambitious is no longer fame, honor or service, but cash.

Education undergoes the same gradual transformation. No longer do schools aim at producing brave patriots ready to serve their country. Parents and students alike seek the educational qualifications which will command the highest salaries.

The Arab moralist, Ghazali (1058-1111), complains in these very same words of the lowering of objectives in the declining Arab world of his time.

Students, he says, no longer attend college to acquire learning and virtue, but to obtain those qualifications which will enable them to grow rich.

The same situation is everywhere evident among us in the West today.

XVI. High Noon

That which we may call the High Noon of the nation covers the period of transition from the Age of Conquests to the Age of Affluence: the age,
of Augustus in Rome
of Harun al-Rashid in Baghdad
of Sulaiman the Magnificent in the Ottoman Empire
of Queen Victoria in Britain
Perhaps we might add the age of Woodrow Wilson in the United States…

All these periods reveal the same characteristics. The immense wealth accumulated in the nation dazzles the onlookers.

Enough of the ancient virtues of courage, energy and patriotism survive to enable the state successfully to defend its frontiers. But, beneath the surface, greed for money is gradually replacing duty and public service.

Indeed the change might be summarized as being from service to selfishness.

XVII. Defensiveness

Another outward change which invariably marks the transition from the Age of Conquests to the Age of Affluence is the spread of defensiveness.

The nation, immensely rich, is no longer interested in glory or duty, but is only anxious to retain its wealth and its luxury.

It is a period of defensiveness, from the Great Wall of China, to Hadrian’s Wall on the Scottish Border, to the Maginot Line in France in 1939.

Money being in better supply than courage, subsidies instead of weapons are employed to buy off enemies. To justify this departure from ancient tradition, the human mind easily devises its own justification. Military readiness, or aggressiveness, is denounced as primitive and immoral.

Civilized peoples are too proud to fight.

The conquest of one nation by another is declared to be immoral. Empires are wicked.

This intellectual device enables us to suppress our feeling of inferiority, when we read of the heroism of our ancestors, and then ruefully contemplate our position today.
‘It is not that we are afraid to fight,’ we say, ‘but we should consider it immoral.’
This even enables us to assume an attitude of moral superiority.

The weakness of pacifism is that there are still many peoples in the world who are aggressive. Nations who proclaim themselves unwilling to fight are liable to be conquered by peoples in the stage of militarism – perhaps even to see themselves incorporated into some new empire, with the status of mere provinces or colonies.

When to be prepared to use force and when to give way is a perpetual human problem, which can only be solved, as best we can, in each successive situation as it arises.

In fact, however, history seems to indicate that great nations do not normally disarm from motives of conscience, but owing to the weakening of a sense of duty in the citizens, and the increase in selfishness and the desire for wealth and ease.

XVIII.  The Age of Intellect

We have now, perhaps arbitrarily, divided the life-story of our great nation into four ages.

The Age of the Pioneers (or the Outburst), the Age of Conquests, the Age of Commerce, and the Age of Affluence. The great wealth of the nation is no longer needed to supply the mere necessities, or even the luxuries of life.

Ample funds are available also for the pursuit of knowledge.

The merchant princes of the Age of Commerce seek fame and praise, not only by endowing works of art or patronizing music and literature. They also found and endow colleges and universities. It is remarkable with what regularity this phase follows on that of wealth, in empire after empire, divided by many centuries.

In the eleventh century, the former Arab Empire, then in complete political decline, was ruled by the Seljuk sultan, Malik Shah.

The Arabs, no longer soldiers, were still the intellectual leaders of the world. During the reign of Malik Shah, the building of universities and colleges became a passion. Whereas a small number of universities in the great cities had sufficed the years of Arab glory, now a university sprang up in every town.

In our own lifetime, we have witnessed the same phenomenon in the U.S.A. and Britain. When these nations were at the height of their glory, Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge seemed to meet their needs. Now almost every city has its university.

The ambition of the young, once engaged in the pursuit of adventure and military glory, and then in the desire for the accumulation of wealth, now turns to the acquisition of academic honors.

It is useful here to take note that almost all the pursuits followed with such passion throughout the ages were in themselves good. The manly cult of hardihood, frankness and truthfulness, which characterized the Age of Conquests, produced many really splendid heroes.

The opening up of natural resources, and the peaceful accumulation of wealth, which marked the age of commercialism, appeared to introduce new triumphs in civilization, in culture and in the arts.

In the same way, the vast expansion of the field of knowledge achieved by the Age of Intellect seemed to mark a new high-water mark of human progress.

We cannot say that any of these changes were ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

The striking features in the pageant of empire are:
the extraordinary exactitude with which these stages have followed one another, in empire after empire, over centuries or even millennia

the fact that the successive changes seem to represent mere changes in popular fashion – new fads and fancies which sweep away public opinion without logical reason
At first, popular enthusiasm is devoted to military glory, then to the accumulation of wealth and later to the acquisition of academic fame.

Why could not all these legitimate, and indeed beneficent, activities be carried on simultaneously, each of them in due moderation?

Yet this never seemed to happen.

XIX. The effects of intellectualism

There are so many things in human life which are not dreamt of in our popular philosophy.

The spread of knowledge seems to be the most beneficial of human activities, and yet every period of decline is characterized by this expansion of intellectual activity.
‘All the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing’ is the description given in the Acts of the Apostles of the decline of Greek intellectualism.
The Age of Intellect is accompanied by surprising advances in natural science.

In the ninth century, for example, in the age of Mamun, the Arabs measured the circumference of the earth with remarkable accuracy.

Seven centuries were to pass before Western Europe discovered that the world was not flat. Less than fifty years after the amazing scientific discoveries under Mamun, the Arab Empire collapsed. Wonderful and beneficent as was the progress of science, it did not save the empire from chaos.

The full flowering of Arab and Persian intellectualism did not occur until after their imperial and political collapse.

Thereafter the intellectuals attained fresh triumphs in the academic field, but politically they became the abject servants of the often illiterate rulers.

When the Mongols conquered Persia in the thirteenth century, they were themselves entirely uneducated and were obliged to depend wholly on native Persian officials to administer the country and to collect the revenue. They retained as wazeer, or Prime Minister, one Rashid al-Din, a historian of international repute.

Yet the Prime Minister, when speaking to the Mongol II Khan, was obliged to remain throughout the interview on his knees.

At state banquets, the Prime Minister stood behind the Khan’s seat to wait upon him. If the Khan were in a good mood, he occasionally passed his wazeer a piece of food over his shoulder.

As in the case of the Athenians, intellectualism leads to discussion, debate and argument, such as is typical of the Western nations today. Debates in elected assemblies or local committees, in articles in the Press or in interviews on television –  endless and incessant talking.

Men are interminably different, and intellectual arguments rarely lead to agreement.

Thus public affairs drift from bad to worse, amid an unceasing cacophony of argument. But this constant dedication to discussion seems to destroy the power of action.

Amid a Babel of talk, the ship drifts on to the rocks.

XX. The inadequacy of intellect

Perhaps the most dangerous by-product of the Age of Intellect is the unconscious growth of the idea that the human brain can solve the problems of the world.

Even on the low level of practical affairs this is patently untrue.

Any small human activity, the local bowls club or the ladies’ luncheon club, requires for its survival a measure of self- sacrifice and service on the part of the members. In a wider national sphere, the survival of the nation depends basically on the loyalty and self-sacrifice of the citizens.

The impression that the situation can be saved by mental cleverness, without unselfishness or human self-dedication, can only lead to collapse.

Thus we see that the cultivation of the human intellect seems to be a magnificent ideal, but only on condition that it does not weaken unselfishness and human dedication to service.

Yet this, judging by historical precedent, seems to be exactly what it does do.

Perhaps it is not the intellectualism which destroys the spirit of self-sacrifice – the least we can say is that the two, intellectualism and the loss of a sense of duty, appear simultaneously in the life-story of the nation.

Indeed it often appears in individuals, that the head and the heart are natural rivals. The brilliant but cynical intellectual appears at the opposite end of the spectrum from the emotional self-sacrifice of the hero or the martyr.

Yet there are times when the perhaps unsophisticated self-dedication of the hero is more essential than the sarcasms of the clever.

XXI. Civil dissensions

Another remarkable and unexpected symptom of national decline is the intensification of internal political hatreds.

One would have expected that, when the survival of the nation became precarious, political factions would drop their rivalry and stand shoulder-to-shoulder to save their country.

In the fourteenth century, the weakening empire of Byzantium was threatened, and indeed dominated, by the Ottoman Turks. The situation was so serious that one would have expected every subject of Byzantium to abandon his personal interests and to stand with his compatriots in a last desperate attempt to save the country.

The reverse occurred…

The Byzantines spent the last fifty years of their history in fighting one another in repeated civil wars, until the Ottomans moved in and administered the coup de grâce.

Britain has been governed by an elected parliament for many centuries. In former years, however, the rival parties observed many unwritten laws. Neither party wished to eliminate the other.

All the members referred to one another as honorable gentlemen. But such courtesies have now lapsed.

Booing, shouting and loud noises have undermined the dignity of the House, and angry exchanges are more frequent. We are fortunate if these rivalries are fought out in Parliament, but sometimes such hatreds are carried into the streets, or into industry in the form of strikes, demonstrations, boycotts and similar activities.

True to the normal course followed by nations in decline, internal differences are not reconciled in an attempt to save the nation.

On the contrary, internal rivalries become more acute, as the nation becomes weaker.

XXII. The influx of foreigners

One of the oft-repeated phenomena of great empires is the influx of foreigners to the capital city.

Roman historians often complain of the number of Asians and Africans in Rome. Baghdad, in its prime in the ninth century, was international in its population – Persians, Turks, Arabs, Armenians, Egyptians, Africans and Greeks mingled in its streets.

In London today, Cypriots, Greeks, Italians, Russians, Africans, Germans and Indians jostle one another on the buses and in the underground, so that it sometimes seems difficult to find any British.

The same applies to New York, perhaps even more so. This problem does not consist in any inferiority of one race as compared with another, but simply in the differences between them.

In the age of the first outburst and the subsequent Age of Conquests, the race is normally ethnically more or less homogeneous. This state of affairs facilitates a feeling of solidarity and comradeship.

But in the Ages of Commerce and Affluence, every type of foreigner floods into the great city, the streets of which are reputed to be paved with gold.

As, in most cases, this great city is also the capital of the empire, the cosmopolitan crowd at the seat of empire exercises a political influence greatly in excess of its relative numbers.

Second- or third-generation foreign immigrants may appear outwardly to be entirely assimilated, but they often constitute a weakness in two directions.
First, their basic human nature often differs from that of the original imperial stock.

If the earlier imperial race was stubborn and slow-moving, the immigrants might come from more emotional races, thereby introducing cracks and schisms into the national policies, even if all were equally loyal.

Second, while the nation is still affluent, all the diverse races may appear equally loyal. But in an acute emergency, the immigrants will often be less willing to sacrifice their lives and their property than will be the original descendants of the founder race.

Third, the immigrants are liable to form communities of their own, protecting primarily their own interests, and only in the second degree that of the nation as a whole.

Fourth, many of the foreign immigrants will probably belong to races originally conquered by and absorbed into the empire. While the empire is enjoying its High Noon of prosperity, all these people are proud and glad to be imperial citizens.
But when decline sets in, it is extraordinary how the memory of ancient wars, perhaps centuries before, is suddenly revived, and local or provincial movements appear demanding secession or independence.

Some day this phenomenon will doubtless appear in the now apparently monolithic and authoritarian Soviet empire. It is amazing for how long such provincial sentiments can survive.

Historical examples of this phenomenon are scarcely needed.

The idle and captious Roman mob, with its endless appetite for free distributions of food – bread and games – is notorious, and utterly different from that stern Roman spirit which we associate with the wars of the early republic.

In Baghdad, in the golden days of Harun al-Rashid, Arabs were a minority in the imperial capital. Istanbul, in the great days of Ottoman rule, was peopled by inhabitants remarkably few of whom were descendants of Turkish conquerors.

In New York, descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers are few and far between. This interesting phenomenon is largely limited to great cities.

The original conquering race is often to be found in relative purity in rural districts and on far frontiers. It is the wealth of the great cities which draws the immigrants. As, with the growth of industry, cities nowadays achieve an ever greater preponderance over the countryside, so will the influence of foreigners increasingly dominate old empires.

Once more it may be emphasized that I do not wish to convey the impression that immigrants are inferior to older stocks.

They are just different, and they thus tend to introduce cracks and divisions.

XXIII.  Frivolity

As the nation declines in power and wealth, a universal pessimism gradually pervades the people, and itself hastens the decline.

There is nothing succeeds like success, and, in the Ages of Conquest and Commerce, the nation was carried triumphantly onwards on the wave of its own self-confidence. Republican Rome was repeatedly on the verge of extinction – in 390 B.C. when the Gauls sacked the city and in 216 B.C. after the Battle of Cannae.

But no disasters could shake the resolution of the early Romans. Yet, in the later stages of Roman decline, the whole empire was deeply pessimistic, thereby sapping its own resolution.

Frivolity is the frequent companion of pessimism. Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. The resemblance between various declining nations in this respect is truly surprising.

The Roman mob, we have seen, demanded free meals and public games.

Gladiatorial shows, chariot races and athletic events were their passion. In the Byzantine Empire the rivalries of the Greens and the Blues in the hippodrome attained the importance of a major crisis.

Judging by the time and space allotted to them in the Press and television, football and baseball are the activities which today chiefly interest the public in Britain and the United States respectively.

The heroes of declining nations are always the same – the athlete, the singer or the actor.

The word ‘celebrity’ today is used to designate a comedian or a football player, not a statesman, a general, or a literary genius.

XXIV.  The Arab decline

In the first half of the ninth century, Baghdad enjoyed its High Noon as the greatest and the richest city in the world.

In 861, however, the reigning Khalif (caliph) Mutawakkil, was murdered by his Turkish mercenaries, who set up a military dictatorship, which lasted for some thirty years.

During this period the empire fell apart, the various dominions and provinces each assuming virtual independence and seeking its own interests.

Baghdad, lately the capital of a vast empire, found its authority limited to Iraq alone.

The works of the contemporary historians of Baghdad in the early tenth century are still available. They deeply deplored the degeneracy of the times in which they lived, emphasizing particularly the indifference to religion, the increasing materialism and the laxity of sexual morals.

They lamented also the corruption of the officials of the government and the fact that politicians always seemed to amass large fortunes while they were in office.

The historians commented bitterly on the extraordinary influence acquired by popular singers over young people, resulting in a decline in sexual morality. The ‘pop’ singers of Baghdad accompanied their erotic songs on the lute, an instrument resembling the modern guitar.

In the second half of the tenth century, as a result, much obscene sexual language came increasingly into use, such as would not have been tolerated in an earlier age.

Several khalifs issued orders banning ‘pop’ singers from the capital, but within a few years they always returned.

An increase in the influence of women in public life has often been associated with national decline. The later Romans complained that, although Rome ruled the world, women ruled Rome.

In the tenth century, a similar tendency was observable in the Arab Empire, the women demanding admission to the professions hitherto monopolized by men.
‘What,’ wrote the contemporary historian, Ibn Bessam, ‘have the professions of clerk, tax-collector or preacher to do with women? These occupations have always been limited to men alone.’
Many women practiced law, while others obtained posts as university professors.

There was an agitation for the appointment of female judges, which, however, does not appear to have succeeded. Soon after this period, government and public order collapsed, and foreign invaders overran the country.

The resulting increase in confusion and violence made it unsafe for women to move unescorted in the streets, with the result that this feminist movement collapsed.

The disorders following the military take-over in 861, and the loss of the empire, had played havoc with the economy.

At such a moment, it might have been expected that everyone would redouble their efforts to save the country from bankruptcy, but nothing of the kind occurred. Instead, at this moment of declining trade and financial stringency, the people of Baghdad introduced a five-day week.

When I first read these contemporary descriptions of tenth-century Baghdad, I could scarcely believe my eyes.

I told myself that this must be a joke! The descriptions might have been taken out of The Times today.

The resemblance of all the details was especially breathtaking:
the break-up of the empire
the abandonment of sexual morality
the ‘pop’ singers with their guitars
the entry of women into the professions
the five-day week…
I would not venture to attempt an explanation!

There are so many mysteries about human life which are far beyond our comprehension.

XXV. Political ideology

Today we attach immense importance to the ideology of our internal politics.

The Press and public media in the U.S.A. and Britain pour incessant scorn on any country the political institutions of which differ in any manner from our own idea of democracy.

It is, therefore, interesting to note that the life-expectation of a great nation does not appear to be in any way affected by the nature of its institutions.

Past empires show almost every possible variation of political system, but all go through the same procedure from the Age of Pioneers through Conquest, Commerce, Affluence to decline and collapse.

XXVI. The Mameluke Empire

The empire of the Mamelukes of Egypt provides a case in point, for it was one of the most exotic ever to be recorded in history.

It is also exceptional in that it began on one fixed day and ended on another, leaving no doubt of its precise duration, which was 267 years.

In the first part of the thirteenth century, Egypt and Syria were ruled by the Ayoubid sultans, the descendants of the family of Saladin. Their army consisted of Mamelukes, slaves imported as boys from the Steppes and trained as professional soldiers.

On 1st May 1250, the Mamelukes mutinied, murdered Turan Shah, the Ayoubid sultan, and became the rulers of his empire.

The first fifty years of the Mameluke Empire were marked by desperate fighting with the hitherto invincible Mongols, the descendants of Genghis Khan, who invaded Syria.

By defeating the Mongols and driving them out of Syria, the Mamelukes saved the Mediterranean from the terrible fate which had overtaken Persia. In 1291, the Mamelukes captured Acre, and put an end to the Crusades.

From 1309 to 1341, the Mameluke Empire was everywhere victorious and possessed the finest army in the world.

For the ensuing hundred years the wealth of the Mameluke Empire was fabulous, slowly leading to luxury, the relaxation of discipline and to decline, with ever more bitter internal political rivalries.

Finally the empire collapsed in 1517, as the result of military defeat by the Ottomans.

The Mameluke government appears to us utterly illogical and fantastic. The ruling class was entirely recruited from young boys, born in what is now Southern Russia.

Every one of them was enlisted as a private soldier. Even the sultans had begun life as private soldiers and had risen from the ranks.

Yet this extraordinary political system resulted in an empire which passed through all the normal stages of conquest, commercialism, affluence and decline and which lasted approximately the usual period of time.

XXVII.  The master race

The people of the great nations of the past seem normally to have imagined that their pre-eminence would last for ever. Rome appeared to its citizens to be destined to be for all time the mistress of the world.

The Abbasid Khalifs of Baghdad declared that God had appointed them to rule mankind until the day of judgment.

Seventy years ago, many people in Britain believed that the empire would endure for ever. Although Hitler failed to achieve his objective, he declared that Germany would rule the world for a thousand years.

That sentiments like these could be publicly expressed without evoking derision shows that, in all ages, the regular rise and fall of great nations has passed unperceived.

The simplest statistics prove the steady rotation of one nation after another at regular intervals.

The belief that their nation would rule the world forever, naturally encouraged the citizens of the leading nation of any period to attribute their pre-eminence to hereditary virtues.

They carried in their blood, they believed, qualities which constituted them a race of supermen, an illusion which inclined them to the employment of cheap foreign labour (or slaves) to perform menial tasks and to engage foreign mercenaries to fight their battles or to sail their ships.

These poorer peoples were only too happy to migrate to the wealthy cities of the empire, and thereby, as we have seen, to adulterate the close-knit, homogeneous character of the conquering race.

The latter unconsciously assumed that they would always be the leaders of mankind, relaxed their energies, and spent an increasing part of their time in leisure, amusement or sport.

In recent years, the idea has spread widely in the West that ‘progress’ will be automatic without effort, that everyone will continue to grow richer and richer and that every year will show a ‘rise in the standard of living’.

We have not drawn from history the obvious conclusion that material success is the result of courage, endurance and hard work – a conclusion nevertheless obvious from the history of the meteoric rise of our own ancestors.

This self-assurance of its own superiority seems to go hand-in-hand with the luxury resulting from wealth, in undermining the character of the dominant race.

XXVIII.   The welfare state

When the welfare state was first introduced in Britain, it was hailed as a new high-water mark in the history of human development.

History, however, seems to suggest that the age of decline of a great nation is often a period which shows a tendency to philanthropy and to sympathy for other races. This phase may not be contradictory to the feeling described in the previous paragraph, that the dominant race has the right to rule the world.

For the citizens of the great nation enjoy the role of Lady Bountiful.

As long as it retains its status of leadership, the imperial people are glad to be generous, even if slightly condescending. The rights of citizenship are generously bestowed on every race, even those formerly subject, and the equality of mankind is proclaimed.

The Roman Empire passed through this phase, when equal citizenship was thrown open to all peoples, such provincials even becoming senators and emperors.

The Arab Empire of Baghdad was equally, perhaps even more, generous. During the Age of Conquests, pure-bred Arabs had constituted a ruling class, but in the ninth century the empire was completely cosmopolitan.

State assistance to the young and the poor was equally generous. University students received government grants to cover their expenses while they were receiving higher education.

The State likewise offered free medical treatment to the poor.

The first free public hospital was opened in Baghdad in the reign of Harun al-Rashid (786-809), and under his son, Mamun, free public hospitals sprang up all over the Arab world from Spain to what is now Pakistan.

The impression that it will always be automatically rich causes the declining empire to spend lavishly on its own benevolence, until such time as the economy collapses, the universities are closed and the hospitals fall into ruin.

It may perhaps be incorrect to picture the welfare state as the high-water mark of human attainment. It may merely prove to be one more regular milestone in the life-story of an ageing and decrepit empire.

XXIX.  Religion

Historians of periods of decadence often refer to a decline in religion, but, if we extend our investigation over a period covering the Assyrians (859-612 B.C.) to our own times, we have to interpret religion in a very broad sense.

Some such definition as,
‘the human feeling that there is something, some invisible Power, apart from material objects, which controls human life and the natural world’.
We are probably too narrow and contemptuous in our interpretation of idol worship.

The people of ancient civilizations were as sensible as we are, and would scarcely have been so foolish as to worship sticks and stones fashioned by their own hands.

The idol was for them merely a symbol, and represented an unknown, spiritual reality, which controlled the lives of men and demanded human obedience to its moral precepts.

We all know only too well that minor differences in the human visualization of this Spirit frequently became the ostensible reason for human wars, in which both sides claimed to be fighting for the true God, but the absurd narrowness of human conceptions should not blind us to the fact that, very often, both sides believed their campaigns to have a moral background.

Genghis Khan, one of the most brutal of all conquerors, claimed that God had delegated him the duty to exterminate the decadent races of the civilized world. Thus the Age of Conquests often had some kind of religious atmosphere, which implied heroic self-sacrifice for the cause.

But this spirit of dedication was slowly eroded in the Age of Commerce by the action of money. People make money for themselves, not for their country.

Thus periods of affluence gradually dissolved the spirit of service, which had caused the rise of the imperial races.

In due course, selfishness permeated the community, the coherence of which was weakened until disintegration was threatened.

Then, as we have seen, came the period of pessimism with the accompanying spirit of frivolity and sensual indulgence, by- products of despair. It was inevitable at such times that men should look back yearningly to the days of ‘religion’, when the spirit of self-sacrifice was still strong enough to make men ready to give and to serve, rather than to snatch.

But while despair might permeate the greater part of the nation, others achieved a new realization of the fact that only readiness for self-sacrifice could enable a community to survive.

Some of the greatest saints in history lived in times of national decadence, raising the banner of duty and service against the flood of depravity and despair.

In this manner, at the height of vice and frivolity the seeds of religious revival are quietly sown.

After, perhaps, several generations (or even centuries) of suffering, the impoverished nation has been purged of its selfishness and its love of money, religion regains its sway and a new era sets in.
‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted,’ said the psalmist, ‘that I might learn Thy Statutes.’

XXX. New combinations

We have traced the rise of an obscure race to fame, through the stages of conquest, commercialism, affluence, and intellectualism, to disintegration, decadence and despair.

We suggested that the dominant race at any given time imparts its leading characteristics to the world around, being in due course succeeded by another empire.

By this means, we speculated, many successive races succeeded one another as super- powers, and in turn bequeathed their peculiar qualities to mankind at large.

But the objection may here be raised that some day the time will come when all the races of the world will in turn have enjoyed their period of domination and have collapsed again in decadence.

When the whole human race has reached the stage of decadence, where will new energetic conquering races be found?

The answer is at first partially obscured by our modern habit of dividing the human race into nations, which we seem to regard as water-tight compartments, an error responsible for innumerable misunderstandings.

In earlier times, warlike nomadic nations invaded the territories of decadent peoples and settled there. In due course, they intermarried with the local population and a new race resulted, though it sometimes retained an old name.

The barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire probably provide the example best known today in the West.

Others were,
the Arab conquests of Spain, North Africa and Persia
the Turkish conquests of the Ottoman Empire
the Norman Conquest of England
In all such cases, the conquered countries were originally fully inhabited and the invaders were armies, which ultimately settled down and married, and produced new races.

In our times, there are few nomadic conquerors left in the world, who could invade more settled countries bringing their tents and flocks with them.

But ease of travel has resulted in an equal, or probably an even greater, intermixture of populations.

The extreme bitterness of modern internal political struggles produces a constant flow of migrants from their native countries to others, where the social institutions suit them better.

The vicissitudes of trade and business similarly result in many persons moving to other countries, at first intending to return, but ultimately settling down in their new countries.

The population of Britain has been constantly changing, particularly in the last sixty years, owing to the influx of immigrants from Europe, Asia and Africa, and the exit of British citizens to the Dominions and the United States.

The latter is, of course, the most obvious example of the constant rise of new nations, and of the transformation of the ethnic content of old nations through this modern nomadism.

XXXI.  Decadence of a system

It is of interest to note that decadence is the disintegration of a system, not of its individual members.

The habits of the members of the community have been corrupted by the enjoyment of too much money and too much power for too long a period. The result has been, in the framework of their national life, to make them selfish and idle.

A community of selfish and idle people declines, internal quarrels develop in the division of its dwindling wealth, and pessimism follows, which some of them Endeavour to drown in sensuality or frivolity.

In their own surroundings, they are unable to redirect their thoughts and their energies into new channels.

But when individual members of such a society emigrate into entirely new surroundings, they do not remain conspicuously decadent, pessimistic or immoral among the inhabitants of their new homeland.

Once enabled to break away from their old channels of thought, and after a short period of readjustment, they become normal citizens of their adopted countries.

Some of them, in the second and third generations, may attain pre-eminence and leadership in their new communities.

This seems to prove that the decline of any nation does not undermine the energies or the basic character of its members. Nor does the decadence of a number of such nations permanently impoverish the human race.

Decadence is both mental and moral deterioration, produced by the slow decline of the community from which its members cannot escape, as long as they remain in their old surroundings.

But, transported elsewhere, they soon discard their decadent ways of thought, and prove themselves equal to the other citizens of their adopted country.

XXXII. . Decadence is not physical

Neither is decadence physical.

The citizens of nations in decline are sometimes described as too physically emasculated to be able to bear hardship or make great efforts. This does not seem to be a true picture.

Citizens of great nations in decadence are normally physically larger and stronger than those of their barbarian invaders.

Moreover, as was proved in Britain in the first World War, young men brought up in luxury and wealth found little difficulty in accustoming themselves to life in the front-line trenches.

The history of exploration proves the same point.

Men accustomed to comfortable living in homes in Europe or America were able to show as much endurance as the natives in riding camels across the desert or in hacking their way through tropical forests.

Decadence is a moral and spiritual disease, resulting from too long a period of wealth and power, producing cynicism, decline of religion, pessimism and frivolity.

The citizens of such a nation will no longer make an effort to save themselves, because they are not convinced that anything in life is worth saving.

XXXIII.   Human diversity

Generalizations are always dangerous. Human beings are all different. The variety in human life is endless.

If this be the case with individuals, it is much more so with nations and cultures. No two societies, no two peoples, no two cultures are exactly the same.

In these circumstances, it will be easy for critics to find many objections to what has been said, and to point out exceptions to the generalizations.

There is some value in comparing the lives of nations to those of individuals. No two persons in the world are identical.

Moreover their lives are often affected by accidents or by illness, making the divergences even more obvious. Yet, in fact, we can generalize about human life from many different aspects.

The characteristics of childhood, adolescence, youth, middle and old age are well known. Some adolescents, it is true, are prematurely wise and serious. Some persons in middle age still seem to he young.

But such exceptions do not invalidate the general character of human life from the cradle to the grave.

I venture to submit that the lives of nations follow a similar pattern. Superficially, all seem to be completely different.

Some years ago, a suggestion was submitted to a certain television corporation that a series of talks on Arab history would form an interesting sequence.

The proposal was immediately vetoed by the director of programs with the remark,
“What earthly interest could the history of medieval Arabs have for the general public today?”
Yet, in fact, the history of the Arab imperial age – from conquest through commercialism, to affluence, intellectualism, science and decadence – is an exact precursor of British imperial history and lasted almost exactly the same time.

If British historians, a century ago, had devoted serious study to the Arab Empire, they could have foreseen almost everything that has happened in Britain down to 1976.

XXXIV.   A variety of falls

It has been shown that, normally, the rise and fall of great nations are due to internal reasons alone.

Ten generations of human beings suffice to transform the hardy and enterprising pioneer into the captious citizen of the welfare state.

But whereas the life histories of great nations show an unexpected uniformity, the nature of their falls depends largely on outside circumstances and thus shows a high degree of diversity.

The Roman Republic, as we have seen, was followed by the empire, which became a super-state, in which all the natives of the Mediterranean basin, regardless of race, possessed equal rights.

The name of Rome, originally a city-state, passed from it to an equalitarian international empire.

This empire broke in half, the western half being overrun by northern barbarians, the eastern half forming the East Roman or Byzantine Empire.

The vast Arab Empire broke up in the ninth century into many fragments, of which one former colony, Moslem Spain, ran its own 250-year course as an independent empire. The homelands of Syria and Iraq, however, were conquered by successive waves of Turks to whom they remained subject for 1,000 years.

The Mameluke Empire of Egypt and Syria, on the other hand, was conquered in one campaign by the Ottomans, the native population merely suffering a change of masters.

The Spanish Empire (1500-1750) endured for the conventional 250 years, terminated only by the loss of its colonies. The homeland of Spain fell, indeed, from its high estate of a super-power, but remained as an independent nation until today.

Romanov Russia (1682-1916) ran the normal course, but was succeeded by the Soviet Union.

It is unnecessary to labour the point, which we may attempt to summarize briefly. Any regime which attains great wealth and power seems with remarkable regularity to decay and fall apart in some ten generations.

The ultimate fate of its component parts, however, does not depend on its internal nature, but on the other organizations which appear at the time of its collapse and succeed in devouring its heritage.

Thus the lives of great powers are surprisingly uniform, but the results of their falls are completely diverse.

XXXV.   Inadequacy of our historical studies

In fact, the modern nations of the West have derived only limited value from their historical studies, because they have never made them big enough.

For history to have meaning, as we have already stated, it must be the history of the human race.

Far from achieving such an ideal, our historical studies are largely limited to the history of our own country during the lifetime of the present nation. Thus the time- factor is too short to allow the longer rhythms of the rise and fall of nations even to be noticed.

As the television director indicated, it never even crosses our minds that longer periods could be of any interest.

When we read the history of our own nation, we find the actions of our ancestors described as glorious, while those of other peoples are depicted as mean, tyrannical or cowardly.

Thus our history is (intentionally) not based on facts. We are emotionally unwilling to accept that our forbears might have been mean or cowardly.

Alternatively, there are ‘political’ schools of history, slanted to discredit the actions of our past leaders, in order to support modern political movements.

In all these cases, history is not an attempt to ascertain the truth, but a system of propaganda, devoted to the furtherance of modern projects, or the gratification of national vanity.

Men can scarcely be blamed for not learning from the history they are taught.

There is nothing to learn from it, because it is not true.

XXXVI.   Small nations

The word ’empires’ has been used in this essay to signify nations which achieve the status of great powers, or super-powers, in the jargon of today – nations which have dominated the international scene for two or three centuries.

At any given time, however, there are also smaller states which are more or less self-contained. Do these live the same ‘lives’ as the great nations, and pass through the same phases?

It seems impossible to generalize on this issue. In general, decadence is the outcome of too long a period of wealth and power.

If the small country has not shared in the wealth and power, it will not share in the decadence.

XXXVII.   The emerging pattern

In spite of the endless variety and the infinite complications of human life, a general pattern does seem to emerge from these considerations.

It reveals many successive empires covering some 3,000 years, as having followed similar stages of development and decline, and as having, to a surprising degree, ‘lived’ lives of very similar length.

The life-expectation of a great nation, it appears, commences with a violent, and usually unforeseen, outburst of energy, and ends in a lowering of moral standards, cynicism, pessimism and frivolity.

If the present writer were a millionaire, he would try to establish in some university or other a department dedicated solely to the study of the rhythm of the rise and fall of powerful nations throughout the world.

History goes back only some 3,000 years, because before that period writing was not sufficiently widespread to allow of the survival of detailed records.

But within that period, the number of empires available for study is very great.

At the commencement of this essay, the names of eleven such empires were listed, but these included only the Middle East and the modern nations of the West.

India, China and Southern America were not included, because the writer knows nothing about them.

A school founded to study the rise and fall of empires would probably find at least twenty-four great powers available for dissection and analysis.

The task would not be an easy one, if indeed the net were cast so wide as to cover virtually all the world’s great nations in 3,000 years.

The knowledge of language alone, to enable detailed investigations to be pursued, would present a formidable obstacle.

XXXVIII.    Would it help?

It is pleasing to imagine that, from such studies, a regular life-pattern of nations would emerge, including an analysis of the various changes which ultimately lead to decline, decadence and collapse.

It is tempting to assume that measures could be adopted to forestall the disastrous effects of excessive wealth and power, and thence of subsequent decadence.

Perhaps some means could be devised to prevent the activist Age of Conquests and Commerce deteriorating into the Age of Intellect, producing endless talking but no action.

It is tempting to think so.

Perhaps if the pattern of the rise and fall of nations were regularly taught in schools, the general public would come to realize the truth, and would support policies to maintain the spirit of duty and self-sacrifice, and to forestall the accumulation of excessive wealth by one nation, leading to the demoralization of that nation.

Could not the sense of duty and the initiative needed to give rise to action be retained parallel with intellectual development and the discoveries of natural science?

The answer is doubtful, though we could but try.

The weaknesses of human nature, however, are so obvious, that we cannot be too confident of success. Men bursting with courage, energy and self-confidence cannot easily be restrained from subduing their neighbors, and men who see the prospect of wealth open to them will not readily be prevented from pursuing it.

Perhaps it is not in the real interest of humanity that they should be so prevented, for it is in periods of wealth that art, architecture, music, science and literature make the greatest progress.

Moreover, as we have seen where great empires are concerned, their establishment may give rise to wars and tragedies, but their periods of power often bring peace, security and prosperity to vast areas of territory.

Our knowledge and our experience (perhaps our basic human intellects) are inadequate to pronounce whether or not the rise and fall of great nations is the best system for the best of all possible worlds.

These doubts, however, need not prevent us from attempting to acquire more knowledge on the rise and fall of great powers, or from endeavoring, in the light of such knowledge, to improve the moral quality of human life.

Perhaps, in fact, we may reach the conclusion that the successive rise and fall of great nations is inevitable and, indeed, a system divinely ordained. But even this would be an immense gain. For we should know where we stand in relation to our human brothers and sisters.

In our present state of mental chaos on the subject, we divide ourselves into nations, parties or communities and fight, hate and vilify one another over developments which may perhaps be divinely ordained and which seem to us, if we take a broader view, completely uncontrollable and inevitable.

If we could accept these great movements as beyond our control, there would be no excuse for our hating one another because of them.

However varied, confusing and contradictory the religious history of the world may appear, the noblest and most spiritual of the devotees of all religions seem to reach the conclusion that love is the key to human life.

Any expansion of our knowledge which may lead to a reduction in our unjustified hates is therefore surely well worth while.

XXXIX.   Summary

As numerous points of interest have arisen in the course of this essay, I close with a brief summary, to refresh the reader’s mind.
We do not learn from history because our studies are brief and prejudiced.

In a surprising manner, 250 years emerges as the average length of national greatness.

This average has not varied for 3,000 years. Does it represent ten generations?

The stages of the rise and fall of great nations seem to be:
The Age of Pioneers (outburst)
The Age of Conquests
The Age of Commerce
The Age of Affluence
The Age of Intellect
The Age of Decadence.
Decadence is marked by:
An influx of foreigners
The Welfare State
A weakening of religion
Decadence is due to:
Too long a period of wealth and power Selfishness

Love of money

The loss of a sense of duty.
The life histories of great states are amazingly similar, and are due to internal factors.

Their falls are diverse, because they are largely the result of external causes.

History should be taught as the history of the human race, though of course with emphasis on the history of the student’s own country.
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