Angels Lesson 5 - Unmasking the Serpent
To see someone who is physically possessed by the devil is terrifying because the effects are not only visible, they are often brutal. In part one of his message 'Unmasking the Serpent,' Stephen reveals that Satan's most devastating tactics are the not-so-visible ones. Let's join him now to discover what they are.
“Unmasking The Serpent”
This month marks the anniversary of the fall of the Russian monarchy. On July 16, 1918, the last Csar of Russia, Nicholas II and his wife and children were executed by the Bolsheviks. That was 83 years ago, this month.
If I were to ask you what was the single most important factor in the downfall of a 1,000 year old Russian monarchy, the murders of Csar Nicholas II and his family, the rise of a man named Vladimir Lenin and Russian communism – if I were to ask you what was the one fundamental cause that prepared the way for all the above, you would probably never imagine the answer would be the work of one demonically empowered man named Grigory Yefimovich.
While Grigory was still in his teens he gained a reputation for two things: being able to somewhat predict the future as well as his immoral lifestyle. The local villagers gave him the nickname Rasputin which means, debauchery. When he was 22 he made a spiritual pilgrimage to Mt. Athos in Greece. There he came under the influence of a heretical religious sect known as the Flagelents. They believed sinning was necessary to salvation – the more you sinned the more secure your salvation. Two years later, Rasputin reappeared in his Russian village as a mysterious holy man – with a penchant for immorality and an unusual ability to cure the sick.
He eventually wandered into the capital city of St. Petersburg where society was in the midst of delving into mysticism and the occult. They warmly received this priest who had already gained a modest reputation as a faith healer. Eventually, Rasputin gained an audience with the imperial family – Csar Nicholas and his wife Alexandra – they were struggling with the incurable condition of their son. The boy suffered from hemophilia. Through hypnosis, Rasputin as able to alleviate the suffering of their son. Because of that, he was welcomed into the fmaily circle as a close and trusted frined – Alexandra came to revere him as a holy man sent by God to save her son, and her husbands throne.
Under the spell of his influence as chief advisor however, capable men were exhiled and corrupt men put in their place. Even after Alexandra was confronted with Rasputin’s immoral and financial scandals in and out of court, she refused to act on any of it – strangely protective of this holy man with power to help her son.
When World War 1 broke out, Csar Nicholas took pesonal command of the army, leaaving Alexandra and Rasputin even greater power at home, than ever before. Key leaders were exhiled at Rasputin’s wish, the economy and public morale reached the bottom. Strikes and riots erupted in the capital city. Rumors began circulating about the relationship between Rasputin and Alexandra.
A group of cabinet members and members of the royal family secretly conspired to kill Rasputin. On the night of December 30th , Rasputin was invited to what he thought was a royal party – instead he was given poisoned wine, was also shot when he tried to escape and was then thrown into the river where he drowned.
But the damage to the Russian nation had already been done. Evil men were still in power, the Csar had lost all credibility, along with the Queen, Alexandra.
Just three months later, Csar Nicholas and his family were brutally murdered by the Russian rebels called Bolshi veks. The vacumn of leadership was filled by the leader of these rebels whose nickname was Lenin and he brought with him his new ideas of Russian communism.
What was behind it all? A demonically empowered man with evil ambitions.
One historian wrote, If there had been no Rasputin, there would never have been a Lenin – no Lenin and there would never have been the propogation of atheistic communism through the empire of the Soviet Union.
A false spiritual leader – a supposed holy man with power to heal – empowered by the Kingdom of darkness, decieved the royal family and ultimately opened the way for nearly 100 years of atheistic communism to dominate nearly 1 billion people.
There is little doubt in my mind that Saten is a mastermind, determined to influence and deceive nations.
And he does so often through single individuals – like Rasputin.
The question remains, just how does Satan impact the life of the believer. Furthermore, can a Christian be demon possessed? For that matter, what power does the demonic world have over the church at large and the believer in particular?
I want to answer those questions, not by exegeting everybody’s stories – but by exegeting the Scriptures.
Three different words are used in the Bible to refer to Satan’s specific operation against the believer.
The first word is found in 2 Corinthians 2:9. For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 10. But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11. so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
As we unmask the serpent and reveal not only his true nature but his ways, his approaches, his pattern, his plotting against the believer, we discover this interesting word “schemes” – as Paul warns the believer of the “schemes of Satan.”
The Greek word is “noema” (nohma) – it refers to the intellectual activity of the mind. It can be rendered purposes or plans; in a sinister way it can refer to plots and evil devices, literally, “evil scheming.”
The word appears again several chapters later in 2 Corinthians 10:3. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4. for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
This passage has produced a number of fanciful theology within the modern spiritual warfare movement. Many people fancy the believer riding against a castle on a horse with a lance and a battle cry – and crashing the castle walls of demonic strongholds to the ground.
The word “fortress” here is a reference to that which a person relies upon or hides behind – many Biblical scholars believe that Paul was referring to Proverbs 21:22 where the same Greek word for fortress appears in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible).
In that passage, Solomon writes, “A wise man . . . brings down the fortress in which they trust.”
In other words, the fortress is a metaphor for intellectual, ungodly reasoning. It is not some mystical castle inhabited by demons, but mental, intellectual arguments that Satan has used to intellectually deceive the unbeliever.
Can we be sure that Paul is referring to mental defenses in the minds of unbelievers, motivated and encouraged by Satan and his demons?
Do we really know that these fortresses aren’t a reference to territorial strongholds that need to be crushed by cosmic warfare?
Yes . . . all you have to do is read the next verse.
By the way, the Bible has a way of explaining itself.
Remember this principle – all of the Bible is a commentary on any one verse of the Bible. So the more you refer to the Bible in all of it’s verses, the better you will understand the Bible in any one of its verses.
Paul goes on in the next verse to describe the fortresses of human intellect that are being destroyed by the truth:
2 Corinthians 10:5. We are destroying speculations (logismos – worldly logic or worldly reasoning) and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God (lofty things – to lift up one’s self – again a metaphor to the erecting of a tower of human pride and self sufficiency)
and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (Paul uses a present tense verb – taking every thought captive – or “we constantly capture and bring into captivity every anti-God thought” – the present tense verb indicates the ongoing daily war within the mind).
If you want to know how to daily battle the mental schemes of Satan who seeks to trouble and deceive and harass and rob the peace and assurance of the believer:
Here’s what we’re to do on a daily basis – Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Most believers would never admit that Satan has captured their minds with his schemes . . . but how many would say that the state of their mind and spirit is characterized by peace. Would you describe your mind and your life in general with words like, serenity . . . contentment.
If not, the discipline of Philippians 4:8 asks the question: the television and movies you watched this past week – were they pure and true? The things you read – were they excellent and honorable? The conversations you had, the relationships and friendships you participated in – were they right . . . were they of godly reputation . . . did they create praise to God?
There’s a second word that describes the attack of Satan against the believer.
We have the schemes of Satan, but also the systems of Satan.
It’s a word found in Ephesians 6:11. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
Back in verse 11 again – “so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”
This is a different Greek word than the word we just looked even though it’s translated schemes.
This Greek word in Ephesians 6 is the word methodias (meqodiaV) – which gives us our transliterated word, methods.
We are to clothe ourselves in the armor of God which will enable us to withstand the methods and systems of Satan.
I remember my older brother and I, along with a neighborhood kid or two going to the house whose yard bordered a two lane street with regular traffic traveling 35 miles an hour . In that man’s yard was a row of hedges about waist high that bordered the road and ran the distance of his side yard. Those bushes provided the perfect ambush spot where we stored our peaches and waited for a car to drive by. Just as a car came past us, we’d jump up and let our peaches fly. Sometimes we’d hear the gratifying thump and know that some ripe peach just splattered the target. Sometimes the car would screech to a halt, and we’d hear this, “Hey you. . .”, we’d race to the other side of the yard, dive headfirst over another row of hedges and make our escape. We loved peach season. Now, it didn’t occur to me until later, as I prepared to share this story, that my parents would be in the service tonight. As far as I can remember, I was there against my will . . . the others guys did all the peach throwing – I just stood there quoting my AWANA verses. Mom, that’s what I want you to believe.
Now, to those drivers what we did was irritating – probably startling – and it created a messy spot they had to clean up when they got home. It was just peaches.
Most Christians seem to think that Satan’s just some mischievous little man who lobs peaches at us every once in a while as we drive through life. He’s not too organized, he doesn’t have very good aim . . . he just wants to disrupt us or startle us or make a little mess of things every once in a while. Not much worse than a ripe peach in the wrong place.
Peter wrote instead that Satan is like a roaring lion prowling around seeking someone to devour. The word devour could be translated, discredit – ruin – destroy.
We aren’t given specifics in Ephesians 6 as to what those methods are by which he devours and destroys; however, back a few pages in chapter 4 of Ephesians the word methodias appears again. Turn and look at chapter 4 verse 11. And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12. for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13. until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (there’s the word again – you could translate it – by the crafty methods of deception); 15. but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.
Once again, the primary attack of Satan is upon the mind of the believer.
And the deceptive lies of Satan continually buffet the believer. Whether they are communicated through the media or the pride of our own sinful nature. It could be through the temptations of the flesh or the philosophy of a greedy world system . . . the battle is real – it is deadly serious and it is daily.
I am convinced that every believer encounters one of Satan’s methods every day.
Call it a daily test of integrity or purity or purpose or honesty. . . you name it . . . every day you face the test.
Let me suggest at least four methods that Satan and his demons can use against the believer: four “tests” of the Serpent:
- temptation – [this is] an attempt to discredit the believer and destroy fellowship with God
- persecution – an attempt to discourage the believer and damage trust in God
- division – an attempt to disrupt the community of believers and dissolve unity with others
- deception – an attempt to distract the believer and dilute the purity of the gospel.
In other words, Satan is not lobbing little ripe peaches at us – what we’ve have to lose is not a little time cleaning up some peach stains – it’s a matter of God’s reputation;
it’s a matter of Christ’s glory and honor in the world –
it’s a matter of being usable by Christ for the
advancement of His church –
it’s a matter of enjoying the preciousness of unity –
it’s a matter of protecting the purity of the gospel.
The systems of the Serpent are designed to destroy all of that if they can. He is ruthless – he is patient – he is organized he is cunning and proficient.
But that’s not all. There’s another word found in I Timothy that further unmasks this Enemy and reveals to us another nuance of his ways.
We not only have the schemes of the Serpent and the systems of the Serpent, but we also have:
The Snares Of The Serpent
In First Timothy 3 Paul is demanding that elders in the church meet the following qualifications:
In verse 6 he writes that the elder should not be a “. . .new convert (literally “newly planted” – this is an immature believer), so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Paul uses the same word in 2 Timothy 2: 24 to describe the unbeliever who is caught up in the snare of Satan. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25. with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26. and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
So Paul uses the word to refer to a believer who, by pride falls into the snare of the devil and loses his credibility – but he also uses the same word to refer to an unbeliever who is totally caught up by the snare of the devil.
We know that unbelievers can actually be possessed by demons who’ve ensnared them, so, can a believer also be possessed – inhabited by demonic spirits?
Many proponents of today’s modern day warfare movement say “Yes.” They point to the modern day deliverance ministries that deliver believers from all sorts of demons – the demon of cancer, the demon of sloth, the demon of poverty.
But they have no Biblical ground to stand upon. Furthermore they do not understand what Paul wrote in Colossians 1:13 – God . . . “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”
Our redemption frees us from any claim of Satan – we have escaped the darkness and have been brought into a marvelous light (I Peter 2:9).
Those who believe that can be owned by God but inhabited by demons do not draw on scripture for their belief in this regard but subjective experiences and stories that make the rounds.
Nowhere in the New Testament do you ever see an illustration of a believer who is inhabited by a demon.
One author wrote, and I wholeheartedly agree, “There is no example in the Bible where a demon ever inhabited or invaded a true believer. Never in the New testament Epistles are believers warned about the possibility of being inhabited by demons. Neither do we see believers rebuking, binding, or casting demons out of a true believer. The epistles never instruct believers to cast out demons, whether from a believer or unbeliever. Christ and the apostles were the only ones who cast out demons (as a sign, I might add of Christ credentials as the Son of God), and in every instance the demon-possessed person was an unbeliever.”
John MacArthur Jr. How To Meet The Enemy, Chariot Victor Publishing, 1992; p. 23
So what do we have – certainly there is conflict with the enemy – we’re talking about the Serpent’s schemes and snares. But you need to understand this is vastly different than believing that demons can spatially inhabit a believer.
Let me give you Charles Ryrie’s definition of Demon possession which is consistent with what we read in the entire New Testament record and, I believe clears up the issue. “A demon residing in a person, exerting direct control and influence over that person, with certain derangement of mind and /or body. Demon possession is to be distinguished from demon influence or activity in relation to a person. The work of the demon in the latter is from the outside, in demon possession it is from within.”
Charles Ryrie, quoted in, What the Bible Says About Angels by David Jeremiah, Walk Through The Bible Publishers, 1995, p.73
Let me summarize that definition with two statements:
- While the enemy can influence the believer, he cannot possess the believer.
- While the enemy cannot possess the believer, he can
destroy the believer.
Now, in the time remaining, what illustrations are there in the Bible of both believer and unbeliever impacted by Satan?
And what can we learn from them?
The first illustration was the Apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 12:7 we read that Paul struggled with pride and God used Satan as an agent of His sovereign purpose.
Paul wrote, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to buffet me – to keep me from exalting myself!”
Now many people have tried to identify Paul’s thorn – epilepsy, poor eyesight, malaria. We’re not told.
But the Greek word for “buffeted” refers to bone-crushing blows of the first. Whatever it was, it hurt – it distracted him – it plagued him.
Nowhere do you read that Paul attempted to bind, rebuke or cast out this Satanic messenger – you don’t read of him saying, “Messenger of Satan, I rebuke you in the name of Jesus.”
Paul simply prayed that God would remove it and God chose not to answer Paul’s prayer in the way Paul wanted.
Listen to Paul in verse 10. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake.”
If Paul were living today he would never be interviewed on the 700 Club. In the eyes of modern Christianity, Paul would be a loser – what do you mean you’re content with distresses and difficulties – people today would be giving Paul the Prayer of Jabez, “Listen Paul, what you need to do is pray that prayer man . . . you’re not receiving God’s blessings.”
No. Satan was allowed access into Paul’s life to ensure personal humility; and Paul received the greater blessing – verse 9 – God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
Satan was allowed access into the life of Peter in order to develop spiritual maturity.
Jesus said to Peter, Peter, Satan is going to sift you like wheat – but once you’ve repented you’ll be prepared for effective, lasting ministry.
Judas was actually inhabited by Satan, thus proving he was an unbeliever – for the Spirit of God and the Serpent of hell will not occupy the same temple – but Satan impacted the life of Judas, by the will of God in order to advance redemption’s plan. And fulfill prophecy that he would be betrayed by one of his own.
Then there are several illustrations of church members who were impacted by Satan – we’re not sure if they all were believers or unbelievers – but Satan was allowed to impact their lives in order to maintain moral and doctrinal purity within the church.
In I Corinthians 5 there was the man who persisted in immorality – living with his stepmother in an incestuous relationship. The church refused to deal with the man who was evidently a believer.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:4. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Satan actually causes the death of believers who refuse to repent and acts as God’s agent in bringing discipline to it’s final stage.
In I Timothy Paul uses the same language. In chapter 1 and verse 18 he writes “. . . some have rejected [the faith] and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.
Paul’s instruction is a lot different from what we hear about today. Rather than delivering people from Satan, Paul actually says that the church sometimes delivers people to Satan! Now there’s a deliverance ministry few speak about today.
That won’t sell any books – but it will purify the church.
Acts 5 Ananias and his wife Sapphira brought a gift of money to the Apostles, saying it was the money they had earned from the sale of some personal property. Ananias came into the church meeting first – his wife was late – some things never change right? Peter said to him, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and keep back some of the price of the land . . . and as he heard those words, Ananias feel down and breathed his last.” Then Sapphira came in – Peter said, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” The rest of the congregation is holding their breath. “She said, “Yes, that was the price. Peter said, “The men who have just buried your husband are at the door, and theys hall carry you out as well. And she breathed her last.” The church had funeral number 2.
You get the idea that Satan, the destroyer will at any moment, when given permission from sovereign God to destroy a believer’s life.
How do you avoid the Serpent’s snares and systems and schemes.
Two principles for the believer who wishes to finish the race.
Principle #1 – The Principle of Consecration.
It is simply allowing the One who owns you to operate you.
Paul wrote in I Corinthians 6:19 Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, whom you have from God, and you do not belong to yourself.
The principle of consecration simply means you allow the owner of the vehicle to operate it as he sees fit.
Principle #2 is The principle of concentration
Who are you looking at – who are you following – who are you allowing to influence you – whose’ your teacher and guide?
There are basically two ways of trying to overcome temptation – illustrated wonderfully, though accidentally in the Greek myths of Ulysses and Jason.
You’ll understand what I mean in a moment – while you pack your Bibles and notes away, let me read from those myths:
When Ulysses and his men set sail on their journey of conquest, they were warned to avoid the sirens at all costs. They were told that the sirens’ voices were alluring but fatal to all who stopped to listen. The unfortunate listeners became rooted like a tree and could not tear themselves away, until they died of hunger. “Fill your companions’ ears with wax,” she counseled. “iof you yourself want to listen to their songs, first let your men bind you securely to the mast.” Ulysses heeded her advice. “If the melody beguiles me,” he ordered his men, “I charge you, disobey my word, and bend more strongly to your oars.” At length Ulysses heard the beautiful strains that stole into his mind, overpowered his body, and overcame his will. As the music came sweeter and sweeter, Ulysses’ love for home weakened. He struggled with his shame, but at last the bewitching voices of the sirens prevailed. “Loose me and let me stay with the sirens!” he raged. He threatened and entreated; he promised his men mountains of gold with desperate signs and gestures. His men only bound him more securely. He raged and tore at his bonds, for it was agony for him to leave the spot. But not until the last sound of music died away did they loose him. He had passed the zone of temptation.
In the myth of Jason and his men set out in search of the Golden Fleece. He also was warned of the sirens, and as they sailed, they began to hear the bewitching strains. All around they could see the shore strewn with the bones of those who had succumbed to the siren’s charms. There were seagulls in long lines and shoals of fish that came to listen. Soon the oars of Jason’s men fell from their hypnotized hands. Their heads drooped and their heavy eyes closed. On baorad was Orpheus, the king of minstrels and he began to loudly sing. He struck his skillful hand over the strings of his harp and his voice rose like a trumpet. The music penetrated the souls of the infatuated men, and their souls thrilled. Orpheus kept on singing until his voice completely drowned out the voices of the sirens. Once again the men took up their oars, and Jason and his men sailed to victory. “Sing the song again, Orpheus,” they cried, “we will dare and suffer to the last.”
Adapted from Intimacy With God, by ???
Those two stories strikingly illustrate two ways of handling temptation.
One is to put wax in your ears – to escape to a monastery or convent – to hole up in a room and never go out into the world – that way you’ll never have to hear the sirens song.
The other way is to concentrate on the voice of another. To hear the voice and music of heaven as far lovelier and more desirable than the alluring music of earth.
It simply comes down to this – on whose voice are you concentrating.
Consecration and concentration!
Two ways to defeat the siren sounds of the Serpent.
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