10 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.
12 Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”
The angelic front of the Great War
Since Daniel proved unable to hear the voice of the Messiah, an angelic messenger lifts him to his feet while declaring that he has “now been sent” (verse 11) to explain things that Daniel is commanded to understand. Though still trembling, Daniel is strengthened to listen and learn.
What the angel reveals is astonishing because it describes spiritual activity — both influence on specific people and conflict with one another — that goes on all the time but is unseen by humanity. The angel reassures Daniel and explains that his humble heart triggered a response from heaven on day one of his fast (verse 12)! So, why did it take 21 days for the message to arrive? The answer is that the angel was resisted by “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (verse 13). Wood explains, “These matters taken together show that this adversary was a demon, no doubt of high rank, assigned by the chief of demons, Satan, to Persia as his special area of activity.” If that sounds odd, recall that Cyrus, king of Persia, is the one who returned many Jews to Jerusalem and whose further decisions would affect their welfare. The entirety of Revelation 12 tracks the attempts of Satan to attack the Jews, kill the Messiah and dominate the earth, so influencing Persian policy was vital!
The messenger-angel was not able to reach Daniel, a subject of king Cyrus of Persia, until greater angelic power was brought to bear in the person of Michael, “one of the chief princes” (verse 13). The standard Hebrew lexicon says that here prince means “a higher being, a guardian angel.” Miller summarizes: “From this passage several important facts are evident concerning angels: (1) angels are real; (2) there are good and evil angels; (3) angels can influence the affairs of human beings. Particularly, this passage teaches that angels inspire human governments and their leaders.” From this conclusion we can understand why Paul commands Christians to pray “for kings and for all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2) no matter how we may feel about them. Our lives may depend on it!
In a book that emphasizes God’s rule over all things, it is vital to know that he rules over the unseen realm as surely as over the part we plainly see. His temporary tolerance of rebellion, both human and angelic is no sign of weakness or disinterest. Miller quotes a wise statement by Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer: “‘While God can, of course, override the united resistance of all the forces of hell if he chooses to do so, he accords to demons certain limited powers of obstruction and rebellion somewhat like those he allows humans. In both cases the exercise of free will in opposition to the Lord of heaven is permitted by him when he sees fit.’” Of course, even limited rebellion has serious consequences as the punishment of the Jews amply demonstrates!
Verse 14 describes the scope of what the angel came to tell Daniel. He will explain future events that involve “your people” (the Jews). These events are said to be “in the future” (NIV), but, in fact, the phrase means “in the latter days,” as we said in connection with Daniel 2:28. Miller explains, “Normally the phrase describes events that will occur just prior to and including the coming of the kingdom of God upon the earth.”
We will soon discover that the angel’s message focuses on Antiochus IV Epiphanes (who ruled 175 B.C. to 163 B.C.) and his Satanic, end-times counterpart the Antichrist. Both men were of interest to Daniel, but the second one is our chief concern today.
Because the created order pours out evidence of God’s divinity and power, a choice to suppress that truth has grave consequences. First, thinking becomes distorted (1:21), and then lust drives those affected toward physical actions that deepen the problem (1:24).
The process described above underscores the importance of choosing God as the focus of your life!
(ESV) Romans 1:24–25 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
There is a sad reciprocity in these verses. Because they had exchanged God for powerless idols, while knowing he was God, the Lord handed them over to impure actions driven by their own lusts (1:24). The Greek verb paradid?mi (1:24), meaning “to convey something in which one has a relatively strong personal interest, hand over,” is the very same one used repeatedly in the Gospels for those who handed over Jesus to be tried and crucified (John 18:30, 19:11). So, the verb frequently has strong overtones of physical custody or limitation.
One commentator has likened the handing over to God’s released hold on a boat that is being pulled downstream by a current, whose pull represents “the lusts of their hearts.” Douglas Moo goes even further: “The meaning of ‘hand over’ demands that we give God a more active role as the initiator of the process. God does not simply let the boat go — he gives it a push downstream.” ESV says God gave them over “to impurity” (1:24), and this word means “immorality, vileness especially of sexual sins.”
In relation to God handing them over, John Chrysostom (c. 347–407 AD) said:
After all, he set before them, as a form of teaching, the world. He gave them reason and an understanding capable of perceiving what they needed to understand. Yet the people of that time did not use any of those things in order to obtain salvation, but rather they perverted what they had received into the opposite. What could God have done about this? Could he have forced them to do what was right? Yes, but that would not have made them virtuous.
The exact nature of “dishonoring of their bodies” (1:24) will become more clear in Romans 1:26–27, so we will reserve detailed discussion until that time. For now, consider that this is not merely a problem in the spiritual sphere, though that would be serious enough, but it affects the bodies of those involved. Spiritual decisions have a physical effect!
In 1:25, the ESV is alone in translating with “because.” Moo says, “Since v. 23 has already expressed the reason for this handing over, it is preferable to see v. 25 as initiating a new sentence.” What does the new sentence say? It holds that humanity has made a fatally bad bargain by trading the truth of God for a lie. Not surprisingly, Jesus says the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44).
Paul is not thinking about lies in general, but the specific lie described by the second half of 1:25. People who suppress the truth reject the worship of God “the Creator” and replace it with worship of some part of the creation (“mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” 1:23). Above all lesser lies is the fundamental lie that denies both God’s right to rule and his power.
Paul will in time explain how Jesus Christ is the one to whom our faith must be given. But before that comes the fundamental issue: will you seek God or fall for the lie? Osborne points out: “In the West, where there are few physical idols, another type of idolatry predominates (even more dangerous because it is not identified as such): the idolatry of self that is manifested in possessions, status in society and sex.”
Accept God and reject the lie!
The same bargain the world offers to us in the twenty-first century was offered to Jesus in the first century. Before his ministry to Israel, Jesus was tempted by the devil:
Then the devil led him up to a high place and showed him in a flash all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “To you I will grant this whole realm — and the glory that goes along with it, for it has been relinquished to me, and I can give it to anyone I wish. 7 So then, if you will worship me, all this will be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:5–8, NET).
1. What events indicate that pressure is rising against the expression of Christian faith in public settings? How do these developments push people toward making choices with their time, money and commitment that do not consider God?
2. What forms has idolatry taken in your extended family and what terminology might you use to try to reach the affected people for Christ? How might you use the creation itself to convince family members of God’s divinity and power?
Many mistakes in life can be easily corrected, but fundamentally rejecting God is not one of them. Because that choice has spiritual, intellectual and physical consequences, it takes nothing less than the power of God to overcome it. Only through the gospel of Jesus Christ is such power available.
Some of my teachers are hard to remember, while others I will never be able to forget. I never liked Mr. Crutchfield, but he won immortality in my hall of bad memories.
I made sure to get to his college physics class early and to sit down quietly. Almost two hundred of us would wait in the large, steeply-sloped lecture hall for his grand entrance through the side door. His coming was an important event. You see, the moment Mr. Crutchfield entered, trailed dutifully by his grader, a holy silence had to dominate the entire room. Immediately!
If some unthinking soul failed to see the mighty man enter, Mr. Crutchfield would look up with a scowl and snap, “Take out a sheet of paper.” Then would come an all-too-regular pop quiz. At times, even when the room was just perfect, Mr. Crutchfield would give us a pop quiz anyway. Keep in mind that we’re talking college physics here.
Fortunately, I will never have to face those surprise tests in physics again, but life throws its own little tests at me regularly. Although I don’t like them any more than ever, I have to face them, just as you do.
Testing, trials, and temptations come in many forms. They swoop down frequently, if unpredictably, throughout the course of life. At such times, we must face the hardship of living in tension. Some tests strike with the suddenness of a lightning bolt. Other problems, such as chronic illness or an unhappy marriage, can linger for years with quiet savageness. Those things are the bad news.
The good news is that Jesus thoroughly understands how it feels to take tests in life. He faced both kinds: the sudden, sharp tests and the long, grinding ones. Christ knows from experience what we so desperately need from him in our own hour of crisis. For Jesus, every test took on the dark hues of a final exam, because his whole mission could have been destroyed through a single act of sin. By considering his model, we can learn how to endure when the sky begins to fall.
The First Test
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” (Luke 4:1–4)
After being baptized to identify himself with those turning to God, Jesus entered the wilderness to face the onslaught of Satan. To the Israelite mind the wilderness was a place of testing. It also represented a place of purging and preparation before full possession of the Promised Land.
Like Israel, Jesus faced trial in the desert, the scene of the nation’s great failure under temptation. Jesus was the keystone of a new beginning for the people of God, so the Father tested him to prove his qualifications for that mission. The Spirit led him into the desert, demonstrating that this encounter for the Son had the direct approval of the Father. The Father had a totally constructive purpose for Christ in imposing this test.
The Holy Spirit did not commune alone with Jesus in the wilderness. An unholy spirit, Satan, met them there as well. He came to destroy Jesus and his ministry, if possible. If Jesus could be made to stumble even one time, then he would be disqualified as our sinless sacrifice upon the cross. At that crucial moment both God and Satan were operating in the wilderness. The two unequal forces collided in the heart and life of Jesus Christ.
The Greek verbs imply that Jesus faced temptation during the entire forty days. Luke draws our attention to the end of that time so that we can appreciate the tension at its greatest intensity. Jesus had eaten nothing, and by that time his hunger must have been severe. To hunger is not wrong, and to satisfy hunger would not normally be wrong either. But to interrupt a God-intended hunger would defy the decision of the Father.
In his hunger Jesus was reenacting the experience of Israel during the exodus, but with one vast difference. The Israelites’ hunger had led them to grumble against God in unbelief (Exodus chapter 16), but Jesus never faltered in trusting the Father to meet his need at the proper time.
In meeting the test of bread, Jesus quoted from the teaching of Moses (Deut. 8:2–3). Moses told the Israelites that God had tested them in the desert to know their hearts. He had allowed them to know hunger and afterward fed them with manna so they would realize that man doesn’t live merely on bread.
On the surface, it is clear that Satan was tempting Jesus to prematurely end the God-intended test. But underneath that, I see this attack as an attempt to get Jesus to distrust the Father. In other words, Satan was trying to disrupt the relationship.
Jesus could easily have met his own need by converting the stones into bread, just as Satan proposed. But that would have demonstrated a lack of trust in his Father’s loving care. Jesus passed this test with ease.
Lessons from the First Test
Our times of testing resemble those Jesus experienced in certain ways. Both God and Satan can simultaneously work in a given case. The test itself is often amoral, like a knife. A knife in the hands of a surgeon can cut out a cancerous growth and promote healing, yet in the hands of a murderer, the same knife brings death.
So it is with testing. In the hands of the Lord it takes on a constructive purpose, but in Satan’s hands it turns toward our destruction. The Greek verb peiraz?, used in verse 2 by Luke, can mean either “tempt” or “test.” Satan tempts us to bring destruction, but God tests us to confirm obedience and promote maturity.
The Second Test
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
Matthew says that this temptation took place on a high mountain (Matt. 4:8). In the Bible, mountains often symbolize authority, power or a kingdom. So in a symbolic sense, Jesus was taken to the very throne room of Satan, from which he could survey the entire kingdom that had fallen into Satan’s hands. All the wealth, power and glory of the earth lay within Christ’s grasp in those moments!
With consummate persuasion, Satan put great emphasis on the personal pronouns in the Greek text. “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me” (Luke 4:6, italics added). Satan brought all this pressure to bear “in an instant,” perhaps hoping to bring about an impulsive response from Jesus.
Jesus suddenly faced an opportunity to grasp something he should not have. That’s an experience all of us have had and will have again. This kind of temptation invites all kinds of internal justification.
Let’s look more deeply at what Jesus was being asked to do. Satan was inviting him to rule the world immediately. Would that have been wrong? After all, the world rightfully belongs to Christ, and one day he will return to rule over all of it.
So, it wasn’t wrong for Jesus to want those kingdoms, but his time had not yet come. To have the world immediately would have meant the abandonment of his purpose to die on the cross for our sins. In effect, Satan was saying, “Jesus, instead of facing all the pain and suffering that you will endure, why not take all into your hands right now? It’s so easy! All you have to do is bow down and worship me.”
In that second test, Satan played the role of God by taking Jesus to that high mountain and showing him the kingdoms of the world. Jesus saw what he could not then have. This situation recalls the occasion when God took Moses to the top of a high mountain and allowed him to look at Canaan, which he would not be able to enter at that time (Deuteronomy 34).
That second test centered on immediate rule. On the surface, Jesus was invited to worship Satan. But to do that, he would have had to reject sole allegiance to the Father. Again, Satan was attempting to disrupt the relationship between the Father and the Son.
In his answer to Satan, Jesus maintained his sole allegiance to the Father: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Luke 4:8). Christ passed up unlimited pleasure and chose unlimited pain, to maintain his complete loyalty to the Father. Satan was thwarted a second time.
The Third Test
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
I agree with Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish Bible scholar who embraced Christian faith, who said that Jesus was taken to the highest point of the temple at the time of morning worship. At that hour a priest would blow a great horn, and the thousands of worshipers would pass through the huge doors into the temple.
The Jewish rabbis taught that when the Messiah appeared, he would do so on the roof of the temple. They supported their dramatic prediction with several verses from the Old Testament. Knowing all that, Satan brought Jesus to a moment of great opportunity. Underneath him walked thousands of those he came to save.
When Jesus looked at the people, Satan reminded him of a promise from the Psalms (Psalm 91:11–12). If Jesus really were the Messiah, then the Lord’s angels would not let him fall and die. Instead, they would save him from harm. Such a miracle would undoubtedly have brought immediate acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. By this tactic, Satan again tempted Jesus to avoid the cross and have the kingdom in an easier way.
In answering this enticement, Jesus again relied on the Old Testament: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16). Jesus stopped without mentioning the next few words of the quotation: “as you did at Massah.”
The sad story of Massah is told in Exodus chapter 17. There the Israelites tested the Lord and said, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exod. 17:7). They were insisting that God prove that he was among them by performing a miracle to provide them with water.
They were wrong in trying to force God to act. The Lord doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone! For Jesus to throw himself from that temple roof would be presumptuous and an insult to his Father. Jesus rightly rejected such a proposal. Again, he triumphed where Israel had failed.
This third temptation consisted of immediate acceptance. Satan invited Jesus to force the Father to act in his behalf. It was another attempt on Satan’s part to disrupt the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Son had come to carry out his mission in humble obedience to the Father. Unlike Israel, Jesus proved obedient, even under the severest pressures.
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
Satan would come again. This had been an opportune time for him, but there would be others. Satan used surrogates again and again to offer those very same temptations to Jesus. Consider, for example, the test of the bread. After Jesus fed the five thousand, they followed him to the other side of the lake and tried to get him to perform the same miracle again (John 6:25–30). He refused, on the grounds that they had only come to satisfy their physical hunger.
They wanted to live on bread alone, rather than on the words that come from the mouth of God, so Jesus refused their request. He didn’t come to be a magic man, and he refused to work that miracle because of the people’s distorted spiritual priorities.
In the same time period, the test of immediate rule recurred. Because Jesus had fed them, the people wanted to immediately make him king by force (John 6:15). He rejected this alternative to the cross, as he had before.
Even as Jesus hung on the cross, the people taunted him, as Satan had, by urging him to prove his claims by saving himself from crucifixion. They said that if he worked a miracle by saving himself from death, they would believe in him (Matt. 27:42). Thus, the temptation of immediate acceptance was repeated. Jesus never yielded to any of those temptations, in either their original or altered forms.
The Temptations: A Snap or a Strain
Believers sometimes give the impression that such temptations were a snap for Jesus. They seem to think that Jesus felt no strain at all. But think carefully about the temptations he faced. He was asked to make a choice between limitless pleasure and unbounded pain. That’s far more pressure than any of us will ever have to endure!
Christians often speak about the agony of the crucifixion, and certainly it was terrible. But Jesus experienced no more physical pain on the cross than thousands of others who died by Roman execution. The real agony of the cross struck when the sinless Son of God became sin incarnate, by having all the sin of the ages dumped upon him.
Such shame and degradation surpasses our imagination. That was the unique pain of the cross. Satan invited Jesus to avoid such misery by simply bowing down and worshiping him. In this way Jesus was put under pressure far greater than any of us will ever see.
When I am tempted, I sometimes give in. Doubtless, you do the same. In those cases, I never experience the full force of the temptation, because I cave in before reaching that point. But Jesus didn’t have that luxury. He had to experience the full force and duration of every temptation that was ever thrown at him. There was no easy way out for him. In this respect, too, Christ’s temptations far exceed our own.
A third awesome element of Christ’s temptations is that he had the worst possible opponent. I really don’t believe that many of us, if any, are personally tempted by Satan. But Jesus was. Certainly we may face demonic harassment at times, but Jesus was attacked by Satan — the maximum enemy.
So, if you ever find yourself thinking that temptations presented Jesus no problem, consider those three factors. In order to save us, Jesus had to forgo unlimited pleasure and endure unlimited pain. To be the sinless Son of God he had to endure the greatest force and the longest duration of temptation. And, in Satan, he had the worst possible enemy a person can have. In those three respects, Christ’s temptation far exceeds anything we will ever have to face.
Tips for Passing Tests
Use the following applicational ideas to take advantage of what Jesus teaches us in his resistance to temptation.
1. Satan takes delight in seeing Scripture distorted. This could even be done by isolating one verse and ignoring other pertinent parts of God’s Word. That’s exactly what Satan did in the third temptation. Every “Christian” cult uses distortion of Scripture to gain converts. Use these principles to protect yourself from such practices.
Gain a general grasp of the whole Bible; concentrate special attention on the New Testament, but do not ignore the Old Testament. Even a general grasp can give you considerable protection, although the more you know, the better off you will be!
Before drawing a conclusion from a single verse of Scripture, read the paragraphs before and after it. Is your understanding of the verse consistent with its meaning in context?
When verses are taken out of context, they are often given a meaning that God never intended. I would suggest that whenever you read Christian literature and encounter Bible verses, you look each one up and study its context. Don’t be lulled to sleep just because someone throws in a few Bible references.
Avoid interpreting all statements made in the Bible to others as if they had been stated directly to you. Develop a sense for the difference between a general principle to be followed by all believers and a statement having only historical significance.
In many cases, we do this automatically. Let me illustrate by using two commands Jesus gave to his disciples in the upper room: (1) “Love each other” (John 15:17), and (2) “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). Did Jesus mean for you to go out and buy a sword? (It was a command!) No, of course he didn’t mean for you to do that. He was speaking about a specific historical situation.
But the command about love is one command that he wants every Christian to obey. How do we know the difference? Partly, it just takes intuition and good sense, aided by the Holy Spirit. A more objective method would be to consider whether another part of the New Testament repeats the command. The apostles do not repeat the command about buying a sword in the rest of the New Testament, but we find the command to love each other restated frequently.
2. Consider the subtle way that temptation often comes. It strikes at our trust in the Father’s concern for our needs. That’s exactly what Satan did in the test of bread. He didn’t come to Jesus to suggest that he go out and rob a bank, as believers sometimes seem to expect. No, Satan approaches in far more subtle ways than that. He leads us to question the Father’s actions and to “cut corners,” by letting the end justify the means; such was the case with the test of immediate rule.
Or, temptation may suggest that we take rash, willful action to end a time of testing; that was the test of immediate acceptance. Satan will probably not try to get us involved in drug-running. Rather, he will try to get us involved in so-called “small” sins.
How about you? What are you doing to resist temptation? Can you affirm the following statements?
I’m trusting God to meet my needs.
The presence of hardship in my life has not caused me to lose confidence in the Lord.
I’m not going to solve my problems by taking the easy, disobedient way out.
I’m committed to resisting rash or willful actions that I think would displease God.
3. Jesus understands and feels your struggles, and he rewards those who seek him. He was hated, rejected, unappreciated, attacked, tired, even moved to tears — just as we are at times. That’s why the writer of Hebrews tells us that, because Jesus suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help us when we are being tempted (Heb. 2:17–18). The same writer tells us that Jesus can “empathize with our weaknesses,” because he “has been tempted in every way, just as we are” (Heb. 4:15). So, when you hurt, he hurts with you. He knows what you are going through!
Apply the following questions to yourself.
Have you prayed for strength to cope with your test?
Do you really believe that Jesus knows how it feels to live in constant tension?
What problem or need should you take to him today?
A Final Word
In some ways our lives resemble a college course with its periodic tests. Assuming you are a believer in Jesus Christ, I have some good news and some bad news about your life-course. First the bad news: You’re going to keep on having pop tests. They will keep happening as long as you live.
Now for the good news: Jesus took the final exam in your place. And even though the course isn’t over yet, your final grade has already been posted.
Coming next . . .
In Chapter 5, we listen as Jesus teaches his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount during his early ministry in the northern region called Galilee. The subject: judging others.
 Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 1:304.
Revelation 20:7–10 Now when the thousand years are finished, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to bring them together for the battle. They are as numerous as the grains of sand in the sea. 9 They went up on the broad plain of the earth and encircled the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and devoured them completely. 10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are too, and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever. (NET Bible)
The power of denial
In graduate school there are a few perks. By that point the university is no longer putting you through flunk-out courses, and rarely does anyone ever get a grade lower than a “C.” The graduate school also figures that as a college graduate you should be able to understand the manual for graduate school. Life is good!
I was tightly focused on my final exam in quantum mechanics when a sleepy-eyed grad-student met the professor at the nearby classroom door. “Sorry, Professor! I just didn’t have time to study, so I guess I’ll just have to take a ‘C’ in the course.”
Prof first looked puzzled, then sad, and said, “Unfortunately, the grade for failing is ‘F,’ not ‘C.’” The sleepy grad student suddenly woke up! Ignorance and denial are a powerful combination, are they not?
For a thousand years (by this point) Jesus has ruled the world, which began the Millennium with a large unbelieving population that knew the grim result of Armageddon. But children may not learn what their parents know, and grandchildren remember even less. Old facts become old stories. Satan, confined in the abyss, is not present to deceive, but self-deception is ever popular!
Why will Satan be released from his prison (20:7) at the end of the Millennium? Robert Mounce explains that it happens “to make plain that neither the designs of Satan nor the waywardness of the human heart will be altered by the mere passage of time.”
To put this explanation into other words, some might say that God was unfair to punish committed sinners since it was Satan who actually caused all the trouble. But removing Satan from the scene and putting the world under Christ’s righteous rule demonstrates that the tendency to rebel against God does not start with Satan or unfortunate circumstances. Shakespeare put these words in the mouth of one of his characters: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Indeed it is.
Grant Osborne speaks of the deceived nations when he says, “After fourteen lifetimes of enforced good . . . as soon as Satan is released, they allow themselves to be ‘deceived’ all over again.” The number committed to rebellion against Christ is far larger than that within the camp of the saints (20:9), but they are destroyed completely by fire from heaven (20:9). This is their first death, but a second will soon follow!
How miserably the rebels will fail soon becomes apparent. The devil will be hurled into the lake of fire where he will join the beast and the false prophet, “and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever” (20:10). The redundant phrases day and night and forever and ever (20:10) combine to mean without pause and without end. Demonic spirits have long known this would be their end (Matt. 8:29; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28). I think those who joined Satan’s rebellion refused to believe they would ever reach this punishment. Denial and ignorance will fail spectacularly!
Some years ago it occurred to me that those who become disillusioned were somehow illusioned in the first place! [Forgive me for making up a new word.] Those who rebel against God simply do not take images like the lake of fire seriously. The problem is that our thinking that something is so or is not so has no bearing on its factual existence. In some matters it simply is not reasonable to take such a chance of being wrong.
Paul Shepherd is one of my favorite Bible teachers. He says his mission is to do permanent damage to spiritual ignorance. That is a mission which can save a lot of lives, and you can adopt it yourself!
Revelation 20:1–3 Then I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain. 2 He seized the dragon — the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan — and tied him up for a thousand years. 3 The angel then threw him into the abyss and locked and sealed it so that he could not deceive the nations until the one thousand years were finished. (After these things he must be released for a brief period of time.) (NET Bible)
There comes a point where you have to decide: is Jesus really Lord of all? Some live as if he only rules spiritual matters; others discount him altogether.
In a skeptical age, go all-in with Jesus! He is the All-Powerful Lord who will really return, really hurl Satan into the lake of fire, and really deliver you into a tangible eternity of joy!
NT commentators are agreed that Revelation 20 is the most debated chapter of all, and this debate hinges on the timing of Christ’s return in relation to a period of time known as the Millennium. The word millennium is borrowed from Latin into English, and it means “a thousand years.”
This post reflects my view that Jesus will physically return prior to the Millennium to establish a literal rule of righteousness upon the earth for a period lasting an actual one thousand years. For those familiar with the language, that is a premillennial position because Jesus returns before the Millennium. The earliest church fathers also held premillennial views.
This phrase “a thousand years” is important because it occurs six times in Revelation 2–7 as a translation of the Greek phrase chilia et? (“a thousand years”). What happens during this period of one thousand years? First, Satan will be bound securely in the abyss so that he cannot deceive the nations (20:3). Second, Christ will rule the nations of the world along with those who have believed in him, both living and resurrected (20:4). Third, the unbelieving dead will remain in Hades until the Millennium ends and final judgment occurs (20:5).
Recall that the military opposition to Christ’s return and the rulers leading that resistance were utterly destroyed (19:21). So, whom does Jesus rule? He rules the billions of largely unbelieving people who did not gather at Armageddon with those who were destroyed. Jesus will not destroy the nations at Armageddon but rather the military forces gathered there in armed resistance.
Revelation 20:1–10 breaks into three parts: before the Millennium (verses 1–3), during the Millennium (verses 4–6), and after the Millennium (verses 7–10). Our passage for today shows how Satan will be securely confined for the thousand years during which Jesus will rule the world. We will elaborate on that rule in the next post.
If you expect some furious battle when the angel comes to seize and confine Satan, then you will be surprised. Satan is in no way equal to God in power, so the angel holding the key and the chain will have no difficulty securing the prisoner in the abyss (19:2–3).
You probably realize that the many views on this chapter arise from various assumptions made about which elements are literal and which symbolic. I have already revealed that I generally take the elements as literal. So, I conclude John saw an actual angel holding a real key and chain. The angel will confine Satan in a real place where he has no direct influence over humanity. Of his eventual and temporary release at the end of the age (19:3b), I will explain that another day.
Satan’s days are numbered
Though Satan will be bound after Christ returns, for now he remains at large as a desperate threat. If you do not take his existence seriously, then you may find yourself deceived by a world he covertly rules (1 Pet. 5:8). But the ease of Satan’s future capture should give you a jolt.
Never forget that even Jesus was tempted by Satan over an extended period (Matthew 4) and then later (Luke 22:39–46). You too will be tempted, but one day all temptation will end forever!
Revelation 13:1–4 Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, and on its horns were ten diadem crowns, and on its heads a blasphemous name. 2 Now the beast that I saw was like a leopard, but its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority to rule. 3 One of the beast’s heads appeared to have been killed, but the lethal wound had been healed. And the whole world followed the beast in amazement; 4 they worshiped the dragon because he had given ruling authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast too, saying: “Who is like the beast?” and “Who is able to make war against him?” (NET Bible)
One Beast to rule them all: The Antichrist
When asked by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 2003 to vote on the best-loved work in the history of Britain, the people voted for J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic high fantasy The Lord of the Rings. Infused with many Christian themes, Tolkien’s work fashions an ancient age of earth in which good fights a death-struggle with personal evil. Its thematic poem mimics Satan’s true plans for the last age of our world:
One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all
And in the darkness bind them.
Revelation 13 introduces one of the most famous biblical personalities: the Antichrist, presented as the “beast coming up out of the sea” (13:1). He will be Satan’s primary leader to rule the world.
The hideous figure that rises from the sea bears a blasphemous name on each of its seven heads (13:1). Osborne says: “These blasphemous names probably allude to the titles of divinity attributed to the Roman emperor (‘lord,’ ‘savior,’ ‘son of god,’ ‘our lord and god’).” Such titles would not only resonate for John’s original readers but would also fit in Satan’s plan to make the beast from the sea into a counterfeit Messiah at the end of history.
Satan, symbolized by the dragon, gives the Antichrist, symbolized by the beast from the sea, everything he needs to rule the world (13:2). But why does the world submit to such rule? The first reason is that they were dazzled by a miraculous mockery of Christ’s resurrection.
Grant Osborne describes the reaction of the whole world to the beast’s recovery: “They are deceived by the miracle (see also 13:13–14; 16:14) and do what the crowds failed to do in Jesus’ ministry: worship the beast.”
In explaining 13:5–6, Osborne describes Satan’s deception: “Here we are at the heart of the ‘blasphemy’ (13:1, 5) of the beast, deceiving the nations into worshiping him as God.” This sickening worship goes on for three and a half years (13:5). Worse still, only one group will refuse to worship the beast: those committed to the Lamb (13:8).
But a decision has to be made about the translation of 13:8b:
(NET) “everyone whose name has not been written since the foundation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb who was killed.”
(NIV 2011) “all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.”
The correct translation hinges on which verb a Greek prepositional phrase modifies (see italics above), and numerous scholars take each side. I side with Osborne in favor of the NIV 2011: “It is better here to respect the [original] word order and recognize that it is God’s plan that has been established ‘from the foundation of the world.’”
Aside from the beast, the story of this chapter is told in 13:7, which says, “The beast was permitted to go to war against the saints and conquer them.” He is assisted by a second beast, “another beast coming up from the earth” (13:11), who is often called the false prophet (Rev. 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). Not only will the false prophet promote the worship of the Antichrist, but he will also organize the world’s commerce so that only those bearing “the mark of the beast” (13:17) can buy or sell anything.
Revelation 13:18 is legendary because of the number 666. I find Greg Beale’s idea simple and persuasive: “’The number 666’ is likely no exception to John’s figurative use of numbers. The number seven refers to completeness and is repeated throughout the book. But 666 appears only here. This suggests that the triple sixes are intended as a contrast with the divine sevens throughout the book and signify incompleteness and imperfection.” Satan is not divine and neither is the beast; they can claim only to be perfect evil!
Do not take the fake!
A regrettable number of Christians have become caught up in following a teacher because of some complex interpretation of the beast or 666. Instead of speculation, we should focus on the revelation God provides us so that we can be prepared to represent Christ in a deceptive world.
In Tolkien’s fantasy world, evil did not prevail, but for a time its power was ascendant. Likewise, in our own future the beast will be given authority to conquer the saints for a little while, but his destiny is not rulership but torment. Instead, Jesus will rule and we who overcome will rule with him. The Lamb was slain, but he did not stay that way!
Revelation 12:10–14 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the ruling authority of his Christ, have now come, because the accuser of our brothers and sisters, the one who accuses them day and night before our God, has been thrown down. 11 But they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. 12 Therefore you heavens rejoice, and all who reside in them! But woe to the earth and the sea because the devil has come down to you! He is filled with terrible anger, for he knows that he only has a little time!” 13 Now when the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of a giant eagle so that she could fly out into the wilderness, to the place God prepared for her, where she is taken care of – away from the presence of the serpent – for a time, times, and half a time. (NET Bible)
One awesome war!
Many a young man has stood in football gear, breathing hard after wind sprints, while his coach solemnly intones: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” If you had been watching and listening closely, you might have heard a smaller player in the back mutter between gasps, “Yeah, or they die!” [That may have been my voice.]
In the midst of the great tribulation, the going gets very tough indeed. But those committed to Christ keep on obeying him and testifying about him. And, yes, many of them die.
It is not so clear when the war in heaven, whose outcome is celebrated in Rev. 12:10–12, took place. Presumably, we can say that if the timing were important to us, then we would have been told. Heartened by the defeat of Satan, believers will become overcomers “by the blood of the Lamb” (12:11), and they will demonstrate this by bearing witness to Christ even when it costs their lives.
Victory in heaven brings rejoicing there, but heaven’s gain comes at the cost of the earth which must mourn and bear the rage of the fallen devil (12:12). Grant Osborne says: “In the OT heaven and earth are normally called on to rejoice together (Ps. 96.11; Isa. 44:23; 49:13). Since the ‘earth’ has come under the control of evil powers, however, it must suffer the consequences.”
Interpreting the section covered by 12:13–17 depends upon the identification of two entities: “the woman who had given birth to the male child” (12:13) and “the rest of her children” (12:17). The number of options does not permit me to examine all the interpretive choices. However, it is clear that in biblical history Satan has attacked both Israel, the children of Abraham, and the church, which is the assembly composed of people from every nation, tribe, and language who are committed to Jesus Christ.
My resolution of the two identities is that the woman represents Israel and “the rest of her children” (12:17) represents the church. Israel must survive the tribulation in order to fulfill the prophecies of Zechariah 12, which involve the national conversion of Israel at the second coming of Christ. That accounts for God’s protection of the woman since “a place had been prepared for her by God, so she could be taken care of for 1,260 days” (12:6, 14).
When I say “the rest of her children” (12:17) means people who belong to the church, some will object that the church will be taken out of the world prior to the terrors of the tribulation in keeping with 1 Thess. 4:16–17, an event known as the rapture of the church. In my view, the rapture will occur before the tribulation, but many do not agree. No matter who is right, there will be people who trust in Jesus Christ during the tribulation, and they are just as surely part of the church as those of us who came to Christ before those terrible times come. So, no matter what position a person takes about the timing of the tribulation and the rapture, part of the church will endure Satan’s attacks when he cannot destroy the protected woman.
Although these times will be terrible, the believers “keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus” (12:17).
What do you fear?
We do not know what the future holds for Christians. Some today wring their hands, predict dire developments and express outrage. But Christians described in the New Testament lived and thrived in a much more hostile cultural environment than we face. They did so by obeying the Lord’s commands and maintaining a vibrant witness about Jesus.
No matter how fierce the cultural winds become, Jesus defines our focus: “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before God’s angels.” (Luke 12:8).