ACST 46: The Deceivers





Another look at the story of the fall in Genesis 3 shows that there was more to Eve’s temptation than luring her with thoughts of a delicious apple (or whatever it was). The serpent entered the picture, and we are told that he is more crafty than any other beast of the field. His capacity for speech seemed a good clue for that observation.

He uses his craftiness to introduce himself with a curious question. “He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”[1] This is what the rhetoricians call a loaded question. It ranks right up there with “have you stopped beating your wife?” There is no good answer to the question because any attempt at answering it could have sprung back in Eve’s face.

For example, what if Eve had pointed out that she had never actually heard God give the prohibition? She, after all, was still part of the body of Adam when God told him “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”[2] So, she could have said “no,” but that would not have been exactly honest. No doubt Adam had briefed his wife on the importance of avoiding the tree. This is clear from the answer she did give.

But she could not precisely answer “yes” either. God had not prohibited any of the trees of the garden, as the serpent’s question suggested. In fact, of the multitude of beautiful and delicious fruits available, it was only one that was taboo. So, answering the serpent’s question with a “yes” would be uncalled-for.

Eve tried to respond to the serpent as best as she knew how. Her answers seem to have added a bit more to the prohibition than what was originally there: “And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'””[3]

Scripture does not record God saying that the humans could not touch the tree or its fruit. His prohibitions appears to have been strictly against eating it. Either Eve is stretching the command here, or she may be reflecting the command as she heard it from Adam. Either way, the serpent senses that this half-truth can be very useful to him.

Notice the bait that the serpent presents to Eve to get her to simply take the fruit into her hand: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”[4] The serpent suggests not that the prohibition is untrue, but that there is another reason why God would not want humans eating of this special fruit.

Look at what Eve sees in the forbidden fruit now:

1. It is “good for food.” Perhaps Eve was hungry. It makes sense that the serpent would look for an opportune time to tempt Eve. Hunger is not a temptation, but it is an incubator in which temptation can grow and become strong. Undoubtedly she had not been fasting for over a month as Jesus had been when the tempter came to him, but she was probably just hungry enough for her stomach to allow deception to overrule her mind.

There was nothing wrong with Eve’s desire for food, or with her awareness that this fruit could appease that hunger. Her problem was that she had taken her eyes off of all the rest of the garden, and focused her hunger on the one fruit that was forbidden. Her hunger alone would never have driven her to take of that tree. She was being deceived.

2. It is “a delight to the eyes.” Eve, like most women, appreciates beautiful things. She has an appreciation for the glory of God reflected in the things he has created. She sees that glory there in that fruit. She sees it because it is really there. The Bible does not say that the forbidden fruit was a hideous warped thing. It was really beautiful, and Eve enjoyed staring at it.

Again, God had apparently not prohibited looking at the fruit. But Eve’s problem was that as she looked, the appeal of this fruit became an obsession. The beauty of this one thing seems to have clouded her mind to all the beautiful things in all of Eden that the LORD had not forbidden.

The sons of Eve follow in her footsteps. God grants most of us the joy of beautiful possessions, and the thrill of a beautiful partner to share life with. How do we respond to these acts of grace? We covet other people’s stuff, and desire other people’s wives. We are deceived by the same deception that our mother faced in Eden. But, unlike her, we cannot claim ignorance of the outcome. We know that coveting what does not belong to us will lead to loss of what does – but we do it anyway. Stupid.

Back to Eve – the desire to see something beautiful and to eat something scrumptious was apparently not enough to convince her. But she kept looking, and kept listening to the serpent’s words. Those words rolled around in her head. Suddenly, this fruit is something more:

3. It is “to be desired to make one wise.” She and Adam had an entire garden filled with discoveries. God had designed them to rule over all his domains. He had given Adam the work of cultivating the garden and keeping it. Adam had also enjoyed learning about all the different kinds of animals, and perhaps the plants as well. But this particular plant offered a short-cut to the possession of immediate wisdom. The serpent had said “that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”[5]

What a tremendous temptation that was! To go from creature status to like-the creator status in just one bite – now that is discovery. Eve knew that God’s goal was for the two of them to rule over God’s creation. She reasoned “Who is better able to rule God’s creation than someone like him?”

She had convinced herself to take the fruit in her hands. Now what? Well – first of all, she did not turn into a pillar of salt. She did not die right there on the spot. So, it must not have been true that God had prohibited merely touching the tree. If he had, Eve would have gone “poof” and God would have had to go back and do more surgery to give Adam wife #2.

Well, Eve lets this roll around in her brain also. She has not been struck dead, so she figures she might as well go ahead and take a nibble. “In for a penny, in for a pound.” Well, she ate it, and she did not immediately die. Didn’t God say that she would?

Not exactly. What God had said to Adam was that “in the day that you (as humanity’s representative) eat of it you shall surely die.” Those words shall surely die in Hebrew are a combination of two words from the same root. The words literally are “dying, you shall die.” What God had warned Adam of is that from the very moment that he ate of the tree, he, and all of those in him (including Eve) would become dying – mortal. That mortality would mean that each person in Adam would eventually die. That was the “you shall die” part.

I am sure that Eve did not understand the subtleties of Proto-Semitic Grammar, and did not think much about what might happen later. All she knew was that she had eaten of the forbidden fruit and had lived to tell about it. That was enough for her to believe what the serpent had told her.

From that moment, she became in league with the devil. The very next thing she did was grab her husband and tell him “eat this” and he did. Before either of them had finished digesting their snack, they both knew what it meant to be on the wrong side of God. The wisdom that they had sought – knowing good and evil – did not turn out to be such a good thing after all.

They looked at each other and both realized that they were naked. They had been naked before, and were not ashamed.[6] Now they were naked and felt shame. Why? They had lost the glory of innocence.

This story from ancient history reminds us that when temptation is not enough, the tempters will use deception to enslave us. They organize humans with political and religious systems the perpetuate shared deceptions. They cleverly mix lies with truth. Just a few lies are enough to do damage to a society, and with it.

the father of lies

Jesus called Satan “the father of lies.” He said that the devil “has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”[7] It should be no surprise, then, that deception is one of the major means that Satan uses to manipulate the nations. The kinds of lies that he uses are like the proverbial “bad apple.” They are mixed with entire barrels of truth, and turn the entire societies that fall for them into rottenness. Unlike God, who never lies,[8] the devil only tells the truth when doing so helps to prop up one of his lies.

Early in Acts, Luke records that Satan had “filled the heart” of Ananias to lie about some money that he gave.[9] Satan did not object to Ananias giving to the ministry, because he could gain supremacy in the lives of Ananias and his wife Sapphira by deceiving them into thinking that Jesus would not mind them holding back some of the money. The Holy Spirit (who does not like to be lied to) made this deception backfire by exposing it, and killing the two who had been partners with the devil in the conspiracy.


The devil has deceived a great multitude of people into worshipping and serving “the creature rather than the Creator.”[10] In some cultures. this involves the veneration or manipulation of carved, printed or fashioned images. In other cultures, people worship themselves and pretend that the creature has the same status as the creator. Either way, deception has occurred, and it has caused the deceived to exchange “the truth about God for a lie.”[11]

The apostle Paul had warned the Corinthians of this tendency by saying that he was “afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”[12] He wrote to his partner, Timothy, that “evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”[13]

Another significant text is where Paul warns the Colossians against the heresy that seeks to turn them away from the true faith. He tells them “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”[14] It is these deceiving elemental spirits (demons) who are the author of human tradition, particularly when it conflicts with the gospel of Christ.

Only a small percentage of humanity would knowingly follow the teachings and ways of Satan and the demons. For that reason, they must deceive in the darkness of anonymity. They must influence people to do their will, while at the same time convincing them that they are doing their own will.


The apostle John speaks of “many deceivers” who “have gone into the world.”[15] He is speaking of false prophets, but perhaps also referring to the spirit beings who influence them. He goes on to say that “Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”[16] He warns against those who go ahead and do not “abide in the teaching of Christ.”[17]

Doctrine mattered to John. He ministered during a time when pagan doctrine was seeping into the church – doctrine that would eventually turn the church into a formal, ritualistic shell of its former self. It would take centuries of reform and revival for the church to thrive again. Satan and the demons did this, not by turning people from Christ, but by deceiving them into believing wrong things about him.

When John wrote Revelation, he recorded the fate of Satan. The deceiver will be thrown into the bottomless pit, or abyss. The purpose of this punishment is so that he is out of the way while you and I have the chance to reign with Christ. John saw a mighty angel throw “him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer.”[18] This incarceration will take place after Christ returns, and before judgment day. It will last for 1000 years. After that period of time, Satan will be released “and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle.”[19] He will be utterly defeated at that battle, but he will have managed to deceive many again – even after a 1000 year reign of righteousness on earth without his influence.


To be “taken captive” is to be in bondage, and need deliverance. There is just as much potential for a person to be taken captive by a false teaching as there is for her to be in bondage due to giving in to temptation. The bondage will progress naturally if it is never challenged by someone ministering deliverance by God’s grace.

Some can be in a slight state of bondage for years – as long as there is no effort from an intercessor to set her free. The longer a person is in bondage, the harder it will be to set her free. Usually arguments – even biblical arguments – have little affect. The reason is that deception permeates the heart as well as the head.

If you seek to minister deliverance to someone who has been deceived by demons, it is probably best not to try to reason with her – at least not in the sense of a debate on the issues. Proclaim the gospel of salvation by grace bought by the blood of Christ. Use this teaching as an anchor, and you will find that the demonically deceived will be less liable to drift away into the depths of her own deception. Patience is also called for, because those who are enslaved through deception cannot be set free easily.


The apostles James[20] and Peter[21] both encourage believers to resist the devil. Resistance – when having to do with deception – means having a firm grasp on the truth. This suggests that the best way to fight bondage in this area on a personal level is to get a good strong and comprehensive understanding of what God says in his word.

Paul mentioned to the Colossians that he rejoiced to see the “the firmness of (their) faith in Christ.”[22] That firm faith can only come with time spent learning and applying God’s word.

Learning to resist in the particular areas where demons seek to deceive you will require specific attention to your own personal history. You must remember the specific areas in your life where you have allowed yourself to be deceived. You must spend time building up your faith and making it more firm in those specific areas. The battlefield of your mind requires shoring up in the places where the defenses have proven weak in the past. Otherwise, the Adversary will simply keep attacking where he knows the resistance is low.


Remember that the easiest way for demons to continue winning the battles they fight with you is for you to ignore their existence. As long as you are convinced that every challenge you face in your spiritual life is due to your own desires or sinful nature, you are in danger of falling for deceptions that keep you sinning. The demons are creatures of darkness. They will not expose themselves to the light unless they feel doing so will give them an advantage. Their usual modus operandi is to remain in the background – the darkness.

A particularly effective way of deceiving that the demons often utilize is accusation. Dealing with this demonic strategy will require a separate chapter.

[1] Genesis 3:1.

[2] Genesis 2:17.

[3] Genesis 3:2-3.

[4] Genesis 3:4-5.

[5] Genesis 3:5.

[6] Genesis 2:25.

[7] John 8:44.

[8] Titus 1:2.

[9] Acts 5:3.

[10] Romans 1:25.

[11] Romans 1:25.

[12] 2 Corinthians 11:3.

[13] 2 Timothy 3:13.

[14] Colossians 2:8

[15] 2 John 1:7.

[16] 2 John 1:7.

[17] 2 John 1:9.

[18] Revelation 20:3.

[19] Revelation 20:8.

[20] James 4:7.

[21] 1 Peter 5:9.

[22] Colossians 2:5.

the next paradise

Garden of Eden

Recently, my pastor and his family went on vacation, and he asked me and my family to house-sit their residence. It was an interesting experience. His house is much larger, and in a much nicer neighborhood than any I have lived in. When I went on my daily walks, I found myself contemplating the beauty and orderliness and spaciousness of the neighborhood. I was not exactly envious – God has taken care of me and mine; I have never had a reason to complain. But I could not help but be struck by the extravagance of it all.

As I was musing over this one morning on one of my walks, I found myself praying to God. He asked me to take a good look at all this wealth, blessing and provision. Then he asked me to imagine myself (as he often does) a million years into the future. Looking back on those few days in the pastor’s neighborhood helps me to keep things in perspective. It helps me to realize that my entire life is simply a short temporary stay in (as it were) a borrowed house. What my Father has in store for me, when I get where he wants me, will be so magnificent that those few days among the well-off will seem like slumming.

God planted a garden

God had taken the elements of the ground (Hebrew: ‘adamah) and created a man (Hebrew: ‘adam).[1] He picked a spot of ground on the same planet and planted a rich and beautiful garden.[2] The garden was given to Adam for three expressed reasons:

1. enjoyment.

The trees and other contents of the garden of Eden were designed to be “pleasant to the sight.”[3] Long before scientists would invent the word ecosystem God had created one, and Adam had the pleasure of watching it work. The interplay between flora and fauna was – no doubt – amazing.

Even now, after thousands of years of corruption and dysfunction caused by sin – the planet is a marvel to behold. This planet’s ecosystem combines a varied geography with the peculiarities of myriads of species of plant and animal life, and produces an unsurpassed beauty. But it is more than just beauty. Our planet is a delight to behold because it all fits together in such an orderly system.

The ancients looked at creation and saw evidence for the existence of God because the world is a design that functions well. They reasoned from the design to a designer. They argued that if one found a watch in the sand, he would never imagine that the watch just emerged out of nothingness. Its design was too complicated for that. Just looking at the planet leads people back to its creator.

Eden was like that. Every blade of grass, every tree, every marvelous species of animal life – caused Adam to reflect upon the one who created it all. It was all “pleasant to the sight” and reminded Adam of the one who gave him eyes to see. Rather than distracting Adam, all this stuff enhanced Adam’s relationship with God. That is what the next paradise will be for.

2. life

The trees of the garden were designed to be “good for food.”[4] God had created Adam – not immortal like he was, but mortal: dependent upon the ground from which he was made. The ground would produce plants which would sustain the life of his soul. God had created him from the ground, and then breathed into his body the breath of life. The resulting combination was a living soul.[5] If Adam had not eaten, his body would have starved to death, and returned to the ground from which it had been fashioned. God wanted to preserve the man he created. He gave Adam what he needed to sustain his life.

Paradise was more than just a nice place to look at. It was designed to sustain life. That is also what the new heavens and new earth will do. Death and all associated with it will pass away.[6] Look at our future home and you will see a river of life flowing through it, and a tree of life in the midst of it.[7] Paradise will be eternal life for redeemed humanity.

3. meaning

Adam was placed in Eden “to work it and keep it.” That marvelous ecosystem will require the human touch to ensure that it continues to be all that God intended it to be. Adam enjoyed his work. Each day brought new discoveries. He “gave names to all the livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field.”[8] Every new discovery brought Adam even more appreciation of his God, as he categorized and celebrated the magnificent provision.

That is what the next paradise will be like. We will have an eternity to continue seeing what we have never seen before, and marveling at the elaborate richness of our inheritance.

God performed surgery

Nevertheless, the paradise of Eden was missing something that led God to pronounce it “not good.”[9] Adam needed “a helper fit for him.” Instead of forming this creature out of the ‘adamah as he had done all the others, God decided to perform the first recorded surgery, and fashion her out of ‘adam himself. Have you ever stopped to ask why the creator did so? He was creating a bride for his son, Adam. She would prefigure the bride for his Son, Jesus. She must be “a helper fit for him.” She must fit the criteria for the bride of Christ.

1. She must be IN HIM.

Eve began as part of Adam. She was in Adam. She literally came from him. If there had never been an Adam, there could never have been an Eve. She depended upon him for her life and for her destiny. The LORD God took her from Adam and brought her to Adam. Adam called her “bone of (his) bones and flesh of (his) flesh.”

In the same way, the next paradise (the new heavens and new earth) will be populated only by those who are in Christ. To be in him then, we must be in him now.

2. She must be FIT TO RULE.

Adam was a servant of God, and a ruler for God. He had been created so that he could have dominion over the “fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that was moving on the earth.”[10] God had placed all of his domains under man’s dominion. If Eve was going to be “a helper fit for him” she must be able to rule at his side, to help him rule, to reign with him.

Does not the Scripture say that we, the bride of Christ, will reign with him[11] in his eternal kingdom? The next paradise, the new heavens and new earth will only be populated by kings and queens. We learn to serve under Christ so that we can someday rule with him.

3. He must sleep before SHE CAN LIVE!

The most remarkable picture that this surgery presents us with is a picture of Christ’s sacrificial death. “The LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man.”[12] Sleep in the Bible is a metaphor for death. Adam’s deep sleep was not death, but it was described in terms that prefigured Christ’s sleep in the tomb. Just as Adam had to fall asleep in order for Eve to be created, so Christ had to die on the cross in order to give life to his bride.

It was also essential that Adam wake from his sleep. He had to experience his resurrection so that he and his bride could come together and enjoy paradise together. So, the surgery in Eden prefigured the atonement, and the aftermath of the surgery prefigured the next paradise: the new heavens and the new earth.

Genesis 2 concludes with the record that “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”[13] This would be the last time something like that could be said, for shame and sorrow followed on the heels of sin – which was introduced into humanity’s story in the very next chapter. But the picture of paradise in Genesis 2 rightly ends with both bride and bridegroom enjoying the garden and each other’s company without shame. Humanity’s shame will be replaced with God’s glory. John describes the holy city as shining with the glory of God, the glory of kings, and the glory and the honor of the nations.[14]

I enjoyed my recent stay in the neighborhood where “the other half lives.” It has got me to thinking about my destiny. Do you share that destiny? Are you in Christ? Are you his bride? There will be a paradise tomorrow, but it only awaits those who are in Christ today.

[1] Genesis 2:7.

[2] Genesis 2:8.

[3] Genesis 2:9.

[4] Genesis 2:9.

[5] Genesis 2:7.

[6] Revelation 21:4.

[7] Revelation 22:1-2.

[8] Genesis 2:20.

[9] Genesis 2:18.

[10] Genesis 1:28.

[11] 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6; 22:5.

[12] Genesis 2:21.

[13] Genesis 2:25.

[14] Revelation 21:22-26.

ACST 45: The Tempters


In the last chapter, Satan and his loyal demons were described as fallen ones. Their goal is to force as many human beings as possible to join them in their fallen state – and so share their ultimate fate – destruction. This chapter focuses on the primary means that they use to accomplish that purpose.

The four disciples who had been fishermen in Galilee were not the first in the Bible to be fishers of men. Satan and his demons have made it their life’s objective to lure as many people as possible into a life apart from God. The bait that they use differs according to the target and the occasion, but the activity is the same. It is temptation.


The first ever to be tempted to disobey God was Satan himself. He was “blameless in (his) ways from the day (he was) created, till unrighteousness was found in (him).”[1] He was tempted, not by God or some other creature, but by the lure of his own perfection. His heart became proud because of his own beauty, and his obsession with himself corrupted his God-given wisdom.[2] His inner being became filled with violence.[3] Perhaps in that very moment he plotted the murder of Cain. Maybe at that time he envisioned every murder that will ever happen – including the death of Christ on the cross. His anger over not being able to ascend to deity led him to lash out against humanity – because he knew it would be a man who will sit on the throne of God’s kingdom.

Corrupted by this evil in his heart, Satan was no longer allowed to remain in God’s visible presence. He was cast down from the mountain of God. That very act meant destruction for Satan. He has already been destroyed by divine decree. He just has not experienced the execution of the penalty yet. He died when he left God’s presence in much the same way that humanity died when our ancestors rebelled against God’s commandment. From that time on, Satan has been marked for destruction in the lake of fire.

Since he has made it his goal to take as many with him as possible, he immediately sought out other angels to join him in that rebellion. A significant number did join him, and so were cast out of God’s visible presence along with him. These became the demons. They are missionaries of a sort. They act on behalf of Satan, and seek to enlarge his kingdom by luring people into lives of slavery to their own passions. They did not create the passions: God did. Every craving within us has at its core a legitimate desire that God put within us for his glory and our good.

· the sexual desire reflects a yearning for intimacy and a desire to express love.

· the desire for food reflects a yearning to experience the joy of receiving what God has provided for nourishment and enjoyment.

· the desire for power reflects a God-given yearning for significance and to rule over domains that God has given us. God commanded humanity to have dominion over the earth – within the confines of his own authority and power.

· The desire for things reflects a yearning to posses and enjoy a part of God’s creation. God intended humanity to find their joy in experiencing all that he has to offer. That is why he put our ancestors in the garden of Eden. Eden itself became a temptation when Satan took advantage of a prohibition and steered Eve and Adam to steal the prohibited thing, in spite of the overwhelming abundance of non-prohibited things.

· the desire for life reflects God’s original intention that humans live forever in fellowship with him. God placed the tree of life in the midst of Eden to remind Adam and Eve that eternal life was possible for them. Sadly, they were enticed away from this blessing of grace, and lost the opportunity for life apart from Christ. God planned that incident because he purposed that eternal life would be found nowhere else but Christ.

· the desire for friendship reflects a God-given oneness that all human beings have with each other. We all came from the same ancestor. Even Eve came from Adam through that first surgery performed by God himself in Eden.[4] When you and I make friends, it is because we see something of ourselves in our potential friend. Adam’s initial reaction to Eve was not a lust for her sexually, but a recognition of this God-given attraction. She was literally “bone of (his) bones, and flesh of (his) flesh.” He found an affinity with her that he did not find with any of the other creatures that he observed and named. That affinity is expressed by the nickname Adam chose to call her by. She was to him Ishah (woman) because she was taken from Ish (man). That nickname became the generic name of all female humans. This unique friendship between man and woman is the reason for the institution of marriage.[5] God has set the monogamous male and female relationship of marriage apart not simply for the purpose of procreation, but so that it would express this unique unity. The fellowship and intimacy of marriage expresses God’s intention for friendship at its best. It is the closest we will ever come to the intimacy of the divine Trinity.

· There are many other desires that are in fact combinations and forms of these desires. For example, the urges that humans have to express themselves in art, music, architecture, etc… all stream from the yearning for things, and the yearning to continue life. The creator designed us to be creative. He designed beauty in the world, and wants us to reflect that beauty with our minds and hands and voices.

the hook

These legitimate human desires are the bait that the demonic world uses to lure people into lives of sin and slavery. The apostle James said it this way: “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”[6] James uses a “fishing metaphor for drawing prey away from shelter in order to trap them with a deadly hook.”[7] The bait on the hook is appealing to us because it represents something that is a legitimate desire. It is something that we should have – something that God intends for us. But the bait is not the problem. the hook is the problem. All we see is the bait.

If Adam and Eve had foreseen the pain, misery and death they would cause to untold billions – they would have either run from the serpent, or stomped him to death right then and there. But they didn’t see the hook. Like stupid fish, they took in the serpent’s lies, and swallowed more than they bargained for.

temptation in the Old Testament

The pages of the Old Testament are filled with examples of people being tempted – besides the obvious ones in Eden. The history of God’s people is a history of stupid fish, constantly falling for enticing bait. In fact, often someone is found repeatedly falling into the same trap, and his descendants failing in the same manner.

Interestingly, though – the Old Testament does not contain the word temptation, or tempt, or tempter, or any other derivatives of the word. That does not mean that no temptation is recorded. Notice these examples of temptation:

“Beware lest wrath entice you into scoffing,

and let not the greatness of the ransom turn

you aside.”[8]

“”If your brother, the son of your mother, or

your son or your daughter or the wife you

embrace or your friend who is as your own soul

entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve

other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers

have known, 7 some of the gods of the peoples

who are around you, whether near you or far off

from you, from the one end of the earth to the

other, 8 you shall not yield to him or listen to him,

nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare

him, nor shall you conceal him. 9 But you shall

kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to

put him to death, and afterward the hand of all

the people.”[9]

These are examples of the Hebrew word sut, which conveys the idea of tempting someone to do something wrong. In the first example, Elihu has been preaching to Job, and thinks he has convinced Job that God has brought all his problems on him as a ransom – that is – to gain his devotion back. Elihu warns Job not to let the severity of (he thinks) God’s judgment turn him aside. He is afraid that Job is going to be tempted to scoff at God – to do what Job’s wife suggests – curse God and die.[10] Elihu was wrong about Job’s troubles being caused by God, but he was right in his assessment of what hard times can do to a person. Troubles don’t always make us stronger, and they don’t necessarily drive us closer to God. For every person who is purified by trials, there are dozens who just go deeper and deeper into sin. Suffering can lure the unsuspecting fish into biting the hook, rebelling against God and all that is holy.

Hard times can lead a loving couple to turn against each other and divorce. Hard times can turn family members against each other. Unexpected difficulties can drive a wedge between friends. Unplanned obstacles can discourage and destroy congregations. A bait does not have to look good. It merely has to entice the fish to bite. Satan sometimes uses hard times to get people to turn away from God. Ironically, God is the only one who has power to take us through the hard times so that we experience his intended victory.

The other use of sut is the Deuteronomy passage where Moses warns the Israelites that they will be tempted to rebel against God once they have taken over the promised land. Moses predicts that God is going to cut off the nations before them, so the Israelites will be able to dispossess them and dwell in their land.[11] But he warns that the land is going to contain more than just milk and honey. There will be traps set throughout the land. He tells the Israelites not to be curious about the gods of these nations that God has allowed them to destroy. He particularly warns them not to inquire how those nations served their gods.[12] We humans are insatiably curious about one another. We are always borrowing from other people and societies things that appeal to us. Perhaps this trend may be called the lure of conformity. But Moses warns the Israelites not to borrow the religious practices of the nations they dispossess.

The temptation is not –per se – the worship of other gods. It is – at least at first – the temptation to worship the LORD in the same way as those other gods are worshipped. Moses says, “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.”[13] This is why Moses had prescribed the complete obliteration of all the places of worship as soon as the Israelites took over the land.[14] God is not to be worshipped in the same manner – as if he is the same as – any other god.

But the temptation described in Deuteronomy 13:6-9a is even more disturbing than that described in Deuteronomy 12. It speaks of Israelites themselves enticing friends or relatives to abandon the LORD altogether and go and serve those pagan gods. Moses, once again, prescribes destruction, but this time he steps up the penalty. He labels this kind of temptation as deserving the death penalty. If anyone dared to lure you away from God, you should not listen to him, pity him, or conceal him. Your hands should cast the first stone, to be followed by the hands of all the people.

This seems a harsh rule to our modern senses. Those of us Christians who have had the privilege of living in pluralistic societies where freedom of religion is protected might have problems with these Scriptures. We must understand that God knew that his people would self-destruct in the promised land. He also knew that the very key element that would cause their self-destruction is giving in to this very temptation. This command was given out of love. If it had only been followed, it would have kept the nation of Israel from experiencing centuries of heartache and death.

Here again, the Hebrew word sut is used for enticement to do something wrong. The bait on the hook was the lure of the strange, the different. Perhaps the tempter would suggest that if the Israelites just do the things that the Canaanites did, then they would have the abundant crops, herds and flocks that the Canaanites enjoyed.

Satan had used the lure of conformity in Eden as well. He had suggested that if Adam and Eve wanted to be like God, they need merely to snack on this food-of-the-gods. Sometimes keeping up with the Jones’ can be a deadly trap.

Another Hebrew word used in the Old Testament to describe temptation is found in these texts:

“”If my heart has been enticed toward a woman,

and I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door,

10 then let my wife grind for another, and let

others bow down on her. 11 For that would be

a heinous crime; that would be an iniquity to be

punished by the judges; 12 for that would be a

fire that consumes as far as Abaddon, and it

would burn to the root all my increase.”[15]

“if I have looked at the sun when it shone,

or the moon moving in splendor, 27 and my

heart has been secretly enticed, and my

mouth has kissed my hand, 28 this also

would be an iniquity to be punished by the

judges, for I would have been false to God


“My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.

11 If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait

for blood; let us ambush the innocent without

reason; 12 like Sheol let us swallow them alive,

and whole, like those who go down to the pit;

13 we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill

our houses with plunder; 14 throw in your lot

among us; we will all have one purse”-”[17]

The Hebrew word that is translated “entice/d” in these passages is patah, and it suggests that the one being tempted is open to being deceived into accepting wrong as if it is right. The bait in each of these instances is different, but each involves something that is morally repugnant, but is being presented in the best of lights.

In Job 31, Job is defending himself against charges that he has brought on the troubles and grief he has faced by committing some secret sin. In verses 9-12, Job tells his accusers that if he had been tempted to seek sexual favors from his neighbor’s wife, and given in to that temptation, then he would admit it, and accept whatever penalty the judges might mete out for the offense. If he had done such a thing he would deserve to lose all his possessions. But – Job’s point is – he hadn’t given in to that temptation. He hadn’t committed adultery, so he does not deserve what happened to him.

In verses 26-28, Job tells his accusers that if he had secretly committed idolatry by worshipping the sun or the moon (a religious affection very common in his day) he would equally deserve punishment. But, again, Job denies any spiritual impurity or false devotion. He knows wrong from right, and has not allowed any graying of the lines between black and white.

In Proverbs 1:10-14, the sin is gang membership (or its 1000 BC equivalent). A father warns his son that some of his contemporaries will try to get him to throw in his lot with them – and they will murder, rape, and pillage until they fill their houses with all kinds of glorious stuff. The tempters will seek to deceive the son into believing that the end justifies the means. If all one wants out of life is a house full of stuff – and if right and wrong are merely subjective ways of looking at the world – it makes sense. But if right and wrong are objective facts – governed by a God who judges rightly and defends the victims of violence – the son had better not listen to his friends.

In only one of these texts is there a group of human tempters doing the deceiving (or attempting it). But in each text there is clearly an implication that someone is trying to tempt by means of deception. The “mark” is being acted on by a tempter. The question is – who is the tempter?

the tempter

In the New Testament, the answer is clear. The person behind all temptation is Satan. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, the Gospels say that he “was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”[18] Matthew calls the devil “the tempter.”[19] Although he does not personally tempt every human being on the face of the planet, he is the force behind every temptation. His army of fallen angels are doing his bidding. They are the tempters because they are serving the tempter.

Satan’s primary and most often means of affecting change in this world is through temptation. He and the demons bombard the minds of human beings with thoughts that appeal to our desires, but which are really designed to enslave us.

using desires to tempt us to cheat

Jesus’ ordeal in the wilderness gives insight into what the tempters seek to do:

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the

wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And

after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was

hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him,

“If you are the Son of God, command these

stones to become loaves of bread.””[20]

Hunger is not a temptation. It is a natural response to being deprived of food for an inordinate period of time. Hunger drives us to procure or prepare meals. It adds to the enjoyment of what is eaten. In this case, the tempter saw Jesus’ hunger as an opportunity to get him to overturn the consequence of Adam’s fall. God had told Adam that one consequence of his rebellion in Eden will be that he will have to work the ground to produce food for himself and his family to eat. All those in Adam (including Jesus) must abide by these rules. No matter what food anyone eats, someone has to work for it.

Jesus is entirely capable of creating food out of the rocks. That is not the issue. Satan is trying to get Jesus to see the food from rocks as something that he deserves because he is the Son of God. The tempter is seeking to get Jesus to the point where he feels the rules do not apply to him. But Jesus is purposely starving himself in the Judean desert precisely because he is a human being submitting to God’s will. The whole purpose of testing in the wilderness is to demonstrate to the spirit world that the rules do apply to Jesus. If he is going to be humanity’s Savior, he must abide by humanity’s lot. That is why Jesus’ response to the devil had nothing to do with Jesus’ special rank as the Son of God:

“But he answered, “It is written, “‘ Man shall

not live by bread alone, but by every word

that comes from the mouth of God.'””[21]

Jesus had sensed the Holy Spirit lead him into the desert just as He led the people of Israel into the desert. He intended to be there forty days – one day for each year that the Israelites wandered. His purpose was not to get really hungry. His purpose was to obey God. He knew that God would take care of him – just as God took care of the Israelites. He saw beyond those wilderness days and anticipated his provision – his own promised land.

His quotation falls within a passage where Moses reminds Israel that trusting God during the time of discipline is the way into blessing:

“”The whole commandment that I command

you today you shall be careful to do, that you

may live and multiply, and go in and possess

the land … he humbled you and let you hunger

and fed you with manna… that he might make

you know that man does not live by bread

alone, but man lives by every word that

comes from the mouth of the LORD. … For

the LORD your God is bringing you into a

good land… in which you will eat bread

without scarcity, … And you shall eat and

be full, and you shall bless the LORD your

God for the good land he has given you.”[22]

The tempter comes along and suggests to Jesus that the rules need not apply to him. He has a special position, and that allows him to skip the times of fasting and go directly to the times of feasting. It all seemed very logical, especially to someone who hadn’t eaten in over a month. Temptation takes advantage of present weakness, and seeks to get the victim to cut corners in the race and proceed directly to the finish line. In God’s eternal kingdom, no one is ever going to go hungry, or suffer the lack of fulfillment of any desire. But until that kingdom comes in time, all of those natural desires will serve as bait for the tempters to get us to rebel against our creator.

using the word to tempt us to test God

The second temptation (in Matthew’s order) has the devil quoting from Psalm 91 to get Jesus to test God’s love and protection.

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and

set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and

said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw

yourself down, for it is written, “‘ He will com-

mand his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their

hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your

foot against a stone.'””[23]

The tempters know Scripture, and will use it if they need to – if they feel it will convince anyone reluctant to rebel against God’s will. Usually, it is not necessary for the demons to resort to this tactic. Usually desires alone are sufficient bait to catch humans and get them to sin. But, deception about God’s will expressed in Scripture is a helpful second method.

Here is a bit more of the context of the words Satan quoted.

“Because you have made the LORD your dwelling

place- the Most High, who is my refuge- 10 no evil

shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come

near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels

concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On

their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike

your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the

lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent

you will trample underfoot. 14 “Because he holds

fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect

him, because he knows my name. 15 When he calls

to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and honor him.”[24]

Some suggest that what Satan has done is take a promise from God’s word out of its intended context here. That is not what is happening. Jesus meets all the requirements as a recipient of God’s promise: he knows the LORD’s name (14), holds fast to the LORD in love (14), and has made the LORD his dwelling place (9). A person who so trusts the LORD has every right to expect the LORD to protect her as she faces the challenges and pitfalls of life.

The devil has done good exegesis. His failing is in the area of application. He suggests that Jesus test to see if God will hold up his end of the bargain. The psalmist did not encourage his readers to so test the LORD. The psalmist was simply expressing his confidence that if anything bad did happen in his life, the LORD would be there to rescue him. He was not suggesting that his readers go jump off a 300 foot pinnacle, any more than they go lion hunting, or snake handling.

The tempter is misusing a text by trying to get Jesus to test and see if God can be trusted. Temptation often distorts God’s word into a kind of game, where we stretch the limits of its meaning. Tempters can take good theology about God’s sovereign election and turn it into permission to sin, since one is already a believer, so it is “safe.” Temptation can take a correct theological position and use it as an excuse to put down and isolate oneself from other believers – who don’t have a good grasp on that doctrinal position. The tempters are adept at using the word of God to entice us to test the LORD, and so express lack of confidence in him.

Also, that testing is wrong because it takes back the reins of one’s life and dishonors God. Believers who have committed themselves to the LORD have given over their freedom to make things happen. They have declared loyalty to God, and have given over control of their lives to him. If, in the course of their lives they happen to fall off a cliff, or encounter a lion or adder, they have no reason to fear. God is their refuge and he will rescue them. But they will not test him. That would be taking the reins back from the one to whom they have given it.

So, “Jesus said to (the tempter), “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'””[25] Jesus was once again quoting from Moses, who told the Israelites “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”[26] He was referring to an incident that had happened when the Israelites were in the desert (like Jesus was) after leaving Egypt.

“All the congregation of the people of Israel moved

on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to

the commandment of the LORD, and camped at

Rephidim, but there was no water for the people

to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with

Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses

said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why

do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted

there for water, and the people grumbled against

Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt,

to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

4 So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with

this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

5 And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the

people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel,

and take in your hand the staff with which you struck

the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you

there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the

rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people

will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the

elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the

place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling

of the people of Israel, and because they tested the

LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?””[27]

They had followed Moses and the LORD into the desert, then looked around and noticed that there was no more Nile river to get their fresh water from. So they turned against Moses and started quarrelling with him. For generations, that place would be called Meribah (quarrelling) in remembrance of the time when the Israelites gave in to the temptation to complain.

It would also be called Massah (testing) in remembrance of the time when the Israelites tested God. They had done their part (the walking out of Egypt). They expected God to respond to their faith with the appropriate provisions. If psalm 91 had been written, they probably would have quoted it to Moses too. Their whole complaint was that provision was part of the covenant, and that God had better keep his side of the agreement – or else.

Whole sections of Christendom continue to make similar mistakes. Some assume that they have access to a treasury of merit that will protect them due to the excess faith and works of others. Some assume that their faith alone is an appropriate bargaining chip that will force God’s hand. But God is free, and he has decided that his love and grace will be freely given. He will not be manipulated.

using shortcuts to tempt us to idolatry

The final temptation that Matthew records has the devil giving Jesus an opportunity to get all that he is destined for – without going to the cross.

“Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall

not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 8 Again,

the devil took him to a very high mountain and

showed him all the kingdoms of the world and

their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will

give you, if you will fall down and worship me.””[28]

The ESV Study Bible comments on this text: “The devil offers a shortcut to Jesus’ future reign in God’s kingdom—a shortcut that side-steps Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross.”[29]

The tempters really have no problem with humanity’s thirst for holiness and wisdom and service to each other, and all our other noble desires. They simply want us to gain our glory by submitting to the devil. Satan delights when people think they are following God by trusting in a religious image. His demons possess those images. When the False Prophet convinces a person that God is blessing her through – or by means of an image, he has gained another religious devotee to Satan’s kingdom.

There are no short cuts. Satan is a liar,[30] and he was lying to Jesus when he promised him the world – literally. Jesus caught him in the act.

“Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan!

For it is written, “‘ You shall worship the Lord

your God and him only shall you serve.'””[31]

This final quote is also from Moses, who warns the Israelites not to forget God when he blesses them:

“”And when the LORD your God brings you into the

land … take care lest you forget the LORD, who

brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the

house of slavery. 13 It is the LORD your God you

shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you

shall swear. 14 You shall not go after other gods,

the gods of the peoples who are around you,

15 for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous

God, lest the anger of the LORD your God be

kindled against you, and he destroy you from

off the face of the earth.”[32]

God is a jealous God. We are his possession. He will not share his possession with any substitutes. In the same chapter where Moses tells Israel to love the LORD their God with all their heart and soul and might,[33] he tells them not to love anyone else. The greatest of all commandments is not that we love our creator, but that we love him exclusively.

Our love for God should be such that all other loves should be hate compared with this exclusive love. So, Jesus says “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”[34] He illustrates this by talking about people who plan to build something or go to war, but are not able to finish what they planned because they did not count the cost.

It is all or nothing. If you plan on being a Christian and a good child to your parents, a good spouse, or parent or sibling, or even to preserve your own life – the tower will never be built. There are only enough resources for one project, not two. If your project is to love God with all of who you are, you can make it. But if you plan on dividing the resources so that your devotion is split between God and anyone else (even yourself) both projects will fail.

The tempters are all about trying to convince people that they can have it both ways. Remember that the serpent did not just tell Eve that she should rebel against God. All he wanted her to do was put her desires and needs on the same level as her devotion to God. He convinced her that the forbidden fruit “was to be desired to make one wise”.[35] She reasoned that God wanted her to enjoy the food he created, and he also wanted her to have fellowship with him – and to do so she needed to be wise, like him. She was right in her conclusions, but wrong on the means to get there. The tempter had kept reminding her of the self project that she lost track of the original God project.

This – by the way – explains why there had to be at least one forbidden thing in Eden. Eden was a test to see if humanity would let anything come between themselves and God. It was a test to see if Adam and Eve would love God with all their heart and soul and might. They failed the test, and plunged the human race into the depths of mortality and depravity.

Along came Jesus, and the serpent tries the same trick. He offers Jesus a substitute to the cross — a way to rule all the kingdoms of the world without suffering as the world’s ransom. Fortunately for us, Jesus was aware of the temptation, and would not give in. He not only accepted God’s call on his life, he was also willing to take God’s way to accomplish it. If he had chosen any other way, it would have been idolatry.

The tempters are proficient at giving people alternate choices so that they accomplish legitimate objectives through illegitimate means. It is very easy to criticize the pagan in the two-thirds world who places a duded-up doll in his store window for good luck. We westerners laugh at such blatant idolatry, and consider it foolishness. But we are often just as guilty of idolatry when we place self on the throne of our lives and tell God he will have to wait for an appointment because we don’t have time for religion – we have a life to live. The same tempters are telling the same lie, and both sinners are believing it.


The result of giving in to temptation is not usually immediate death. Were that the case, humanity would not be around by now. Instead, yielding to temptation results in bondage – or slavery. Every time one yields to temptation and sins, it makes it that much harder to get free of the bondage. All it takes is one sinful act to earn the penalty of destruction in the lake of fire on judgment day. That one sin results in bondage, and makes the sinner more and more liable to sin, which leads to further bondage.

resources to overcome temptation

Jesus waited until after he had been baptized by John the Baptist before he went on his 40 day spiritual journey in the Judean desert. He did this as a visual aid for us – to show us what resource God has provided to help us resist the tempters’ traps. At his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and rested on Jesus.[36] When Jesus went into the desert, it was the Spirit that led him there.[37] God had provided the “way of escape” already for Jesus, so that he would be “able to endure” it.[38] That way was the indwelling Holy Spirit. The fortunate thing for Christians who face temptation is that we, too, have the same resource available to us.

Another resource that we have is the intercessory prayers of Jesus himself as the high priest of the new covenant. He knows what temptation is – since he faced every conceivable kind of temptation. Because “he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”[39] One of the most powerful mental images one can keep in her mind while being tempted is that of the Lord Jesus in prayer for her at the very moment temptation is taking place. It takes a very hardened soul to ignore a praying Jesus.

It can also be helpful to imagine a tombstone with your name on it when you are being tempted. James said that “desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”[40] The newborn baby of sin looks very appealing, but it will grow up into death. Imagining a tombstone with your name on it helps you to see that. Paul said something similar: “the wages of sin is death”.[41]

Husbands and wives can help each other resist temptation by keeping their physical relationship strong and consistent. Paul recommends this as a means of avoiding temptation because of lack of self-control.[42] The same principle can also apply to believers helping other believers to avoid temptation by making sure that there are legitimate means of meeting their God-given desires. Part of loving one another is providing for one another’s needs. When the occasion presents itself for us to help others, we should do so. Like the early church in Acts, we should see to it that there is not a needy person among us.[43] It is not as easy to fall for some temptations when you have all you need.

spiritual warfare

Given all these resources that believers have for resisting the devil and overcoming temptation, one would think that living in victory would be commonplace. Yet, the Christian life is one of constant battle with these (usually) unseen tempters. Also, losing to temptation is only one of the ways a person can fail at spiritual warfare. When this typical strategy fails to work, the fallen angels have other ways of putting humanity in bondage. In the next chapters, some of those other strategies will be examined.

[1] Ezekiel 28:15.

[2] Ezekiel 28:17.

[3] Ezekiel 28:16.

[4] Genesis 2:18-23.

[5] Genesis 2:24.

[6] James 1:14.

[7] ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008), 2392.

[8] Job 36:18.

[9]Deuteronomy 13:6-9.

[10] Job 2:9.

[11] Deuteronomy 12:29.

[12] Deuteronomy 12:30.

[13] Deuteronomy 12:31.

[14] Deuteronomy 12:2-3.

[15] Job 31:9-12.

[16] Job 31:26-28.

[17] Proverbs 1:10-14.

[18] Matthew 4:1, cf. Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2.

[19] Matthew 4:3.

[20] Matthew 4:1-3.

[21] Matthew 4:4.

[22] Deuteronomy 8:1-10 (excerpts).

[23] Matthew 4:5-6.

[24] Psalm 91:9-15.

[25] Matthew 4:7.

[26] Deuteronomy 6:16.

[27] Exodus 17:1-7.

[28] Matthew 4:7-9.

[29] ESV Study Bible, 1825.

[30] John 8:44.

[31] Matthew 4:10.

[32] Deuteronomy 6:10-15 (excerpts).

[33] Deuteronomy 6:4.

[34] Luke 14:26.

[35] Genesis 3:6.

[36] Matthew 3:16.

[37] Matthew 4:1.

[38] 1 Corinthians 10:13.

[39] Hebrews 2:18.

[40] James 1:15.

[41] Romans 6:23.

[42] 1 Corinthians 7:5.

[43] Acts 4:34.