What Satan Does to Lost People: Blindness

“The Wiles of the Devil” series (post #17)

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4, N.K.J.V.)

In the previous post, we learned that Satan steals the gospel from the hearts of some lost people before they can use it to place saving belief in Jesus. Here now in today’s passage we find another method he uses to keep people lost. He blinds them — not physically but spiritually — so that the light of the gospel cannot shine on them. This is the barrier those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as Savior are forced to overcome.

And how does Satan do this blinding? He does it through the world system he has created. This explains why he is referred to in our text passage as “the god of this age.” The Greek word translated here as “age” (“world” in the K.J.V.) is aion, which refers to an indefinite period of time. It is different from the Greek word kosmos, which is more commonly translated as “age” (“world” in the K.J.V.) and refers to an order, arrangement, or adornment that creates an organized system. However, both words can be used to express the same idea. For example, Paul uses both in 1 Corinthians 3:18-19, where he writes:

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age (aion), let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world (kosmos) is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness.” (N.K.J.V.)

The point is that Satan is the god of not only the indefinite period of time in which our current world system exists but also the system itself. Even Jesus called him “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11, N.K.J.V.). Likewise Paul called him “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2:2, N.I.V.), and John called him “the wicked one” under whom “the whole world lies under the sway” (1 John 5:19, N.K.J.V.).

Many years ago walk-through funhouses were popular attractions at carnivals and amusement parks. These funhouses featured mazes, distortion mirrors, moving floors, air jets that shot up from the floors, pits filled with balls, etc. Well, going all the way back to Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden of Eden, life on planet earth has been Satan’s funhouse, and he’s had plenty of time to get it organized and systematized to make it highly effective in keeping lost peoples’ minds blinded to the gospel of Christ.

A man won’t truly see the gospel as long as his entire focus is on conquering the maze of becoming wealthy. A woman won’t see it as long as she is looking in the distortion mirror of the priorities of being a “modern woman.” A teenager won’t see it as long as his or her mission in life is to navigate the moving floors of high school, college, and finding a career path. An athlete won’t see it as long as he is consumed with the fanatical drive to be the best at his sport. A celebrity won’t see it as long as she is worshiping at the altar of fame.

Of course these are just a few examples of the scores of mind-consuming, gospel-blinding tricks that Satan has built into his world funhouse. The funhouse holds many more. Commentator William MacDonald writes:

In our physical universe, the sun is always shining. We do not always see it, but the reason for that is that something has come between the sun and us. So it is with the gospel. The light of the gospel is always shining. God is always seeking to shine into the hearts of men. But Satan puts various barriers between unbelievers and God. It may be the cloud of pride, or of rebellion, or of self-righteousness, or any one of a hundred other things. But all of these serve effectively to hinder the light of the gospel from shining in. Satan simply does not want men to be saved.

We might ask, “In the midst of this Satanic funhouse, how can anyone get saved?” The answer is: through God the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can cut through the spiritual blindness and allow the light of the gospel to shine into the eyes of lost unbelievers. We Christians can share the gospel by way of sermons, books, articles, videos, tracts, church websites, blog sites, podcasts, television, radio, and any other way we can name, but if our evangelism isn’t touched by the power of the anointing of God the Holy Spirit, no true salvation experiences will come from it all. This is the kind of thing Paul was talking about when he wrote:

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14, N.K.J.V.)

Tragically, the “end game” of Satan’s funhouse and the spiritual blindness it produces is the lost person eternally “perishing.” The individual currently lives day in and day out in the throes of this perishing, and at the moment of his or her physical death the perishing will be finalized. In its final stage, the perishing will equate to him or her spending all eternity in that place the Bible calls “the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).

But hear me well when I say, “THE PERISHING DOESN’T HAVE TO REACH THIS FINAL STAGE!” As Jesus says in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (N.I.V.)

You see, spiritual blindness doesn’t have to be permanent. It doesn’t have to seal your eternal fate. Even in the midst of this Satanic era and world system, the glorious light of the gospel of Jesus Christ is beaming down through the roof of the funhouse and God the Holy Spirit is cutting through peoples’ blindness. Despite Satan’s best efforts, people are still hearing the gospel every day and getting saved by believing in Jesus as Savior. It is for this reason that we Christians must continue to share the gospel with a lost and dying population who are wandering around hopelessly inside Satan’s funhouse. No, they won’t all get saved, but thank God, some of them will.

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What Satan Does to Some Who Hear the Word: Theft

“The Wiles of the Devil” series (post #16)

“Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” (Luke 8:12, N.K.J.V.)

The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15) is one of Christ’s better known ones. It also goes by the title The Parable of the Soil. The latter is perhaps more accurate because the heart of the story centers around the soil rather than the seed. The story’s lesson is that the same seed sown in different types of soil produces differing results.

If you’ve ever spread any type of seed by hand, you can relate to the story. As the sower walks along randomly broadcasting his seed, the seed falls upon four types of soil: hard ground, stony ground, thorny ground, and good ground. The story’s symbolism is easy to understand. The sower is either Jesus (in the immediate context) or anyone who presents the gospel (in the larger context). The seed is God’s word, specifically the gospel. And the different soils are the different types of people who hear the gospel.

The seed that falls upon stony ground takes shallow root in the thin layer of soil that barely covers a slab of rock under the surface. An upstart plant is produced that looks fine for a little while. It won’t take long, though, for the plant’s inadequate root system to cause the plant to wither and die under the sun’s heat.

This type of soil illustrates people who hear the gospel and immediately respond to it in an enthusiastic way that seems sincere, but in reality the response is superficial. Such a person gets stirred by a gospel presentation, makes a salvation “decision” that is emotional rather than spiritual, lives in line with the decision for a while, and then abandons the decision the first time difficulties arise because of it. Summing up the situation, the person never experienced salvation at all.

The seed that falls upon thorny ground also takes root and produces a plant that seems ideal at the start. But it doesn’t take long for that little plant to get choked by the more dominant thorn plants. The thorn plants steal all the surrounding nourishment and eventually block out the sunlight. Under such conditions, the plant can’t grow and produce fruit.

This type of soil illustrates the person who hears the gospel, makes a decision for Jesus based upon it, and lives in line with the decision for a while. Eventually, though, the person allows life’s thorns (i.e., the cares of the world, the pursuit of worldly riches, and the person’s own desires) to cause him to revert back to his old life. There is honest disagreement among reliable commentators as to whether or not the thorny ground represents a genuine salvation experience — albeit one that leads to an immature, backslidden, carnal Christianity — or yet another failure to ever get saved. The imagery can be sensibly taken both ways.

As for the seed that falls upon good ground, that’s the only seed that produces unquestionable salvation marked by lasting plants that bear fruit. Depending upon the richness of the soil, some of the plants bear thirtyfold fruit, some sixtyfold, and others a hundredfold. This illustrates the people who hear the gospel, get saved by placing their belief in Jesus, and spend the rest of their lives bearing fruit for Him.

Okay, perhaps you noticed that I left out the seed that falls upon hard ground. I did that on purpose because I want to spend more time with it. You see, that’s the part of the story where Jesus specifically mentions the work of Satan.

Jesus doesn’t actually use the word “hard” to describe the ground in question. Instead, He describes it as ground “by the wayside” (N.K.J.V.). The Greek word used is hodos, and it means “way” or “road.” The image is that of either a footpath through the rows of a sown field or, more likely, a footpath at the edge of the field. Such a path features soil that is well worn and packed. In other words, it’s hard. Any seed that falls upon such ground doesn’t stand a chance. Rather than receive the seed into it, the hard crust of the soil will repel it. So the seed will just lie there, never taking root, until the birds spot it and eat it.

By Christ’s own interpretation, the birds of the story symbolize Satan, with the plural “birds” evidently referring to the fact that Satan accomplishes the thievery through his army of demons. Through them, he races in immediately and steals the seed (the word, the gospel) from the hardened person’s heart before the seed can take root and the person can believe in Jesus for salvation. Please note that Satan doesn’t steal salvation that already exists. No, he doesn’t have that much power. But what he can do and does do is steal the seed that he knows can lead to salvation.

Of course if you are reading this and you have never experienced salvation by placing your belief in Jesus Christ, you need to be aware of what Satan is doing to you anytime you hear the gospel. He is stealing the gospel from you as quickly as he can lest it produce Christ’s desired effect in your life. You’d do well to remember this whenever someone tells you about Jesus. If the message doesn’t resonate with you at all, you can consider yourself robbed once again, robbed of the precious word of God that if acted upon could have resulted in your salvation.

But what about the person who is already a Christian? Does the Parable of the Sower (or the Soils) have nothing to say to that person? Surely it does. Even though our text verse indicates that the parable has to do with the gospel and salvation, the symbolism of the “seed” (the “word”) can also be rightly applied to any “word” from the Lord that comes the Christian’s way.

That “word” might be one regarding prayer, Bible study, church attendance, giving, evangelism, confession, repentance, or a hundred other Christian topics, but the point is that once the Christian receives it the effect it will have depends upon what type of soil it encounters. Is the ground hard? Is it stony? Is it thorny? Or is it good?

Needless to say, it’s the good soil that will produce the right result. So each of us would do well to examine our own life and be honest as to just how receptive we are to a fresh word from God. Since the Lord is faithful to sow His seed, and since the seed itself is perfect, the breakdown we are seeing in the process must be the result of our problematic soil. And unfortunately all indications are that Satan knows more about the condition of our soil than we do.

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“Christian Verses” Podcast: 2 Timothy 3:16

For this week’s podcast Malcolm and I continue with our series on the word of God. Our focus verse this time is 2 Timothy 3:16 as we discuss not only the inspiration of the Bible but also the implications of the Bible being inspired. Here’s the link:

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What Satan Did to the Christians of Smyrna: Imprisonment

“The Wiles of the Devil” series (post #15)

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10, N.K.J.V.)

These words were spoken by Jesus to the church in Smyrna. Smyrna was a seaport city located approximately 35 miles north of Ephesus. It was the most beautiful city in Asia Minor and was a thriving center of commerce. It was also known for its wildly zealous loyalty to Rome, to the extreme that it was a center of the imperial cult that worshiped Rome’s Caesar as a god.

Since the worship of Caesar was compulsory in Smyrna, any citizen who wouldn’t say, “Caesar is Lord” was ostracized from the city’s trade guilds. That would result in unemployment and poverty. That citizen could also have his property confiscated. This explains why Jesus said to those Christians, “I know your works, your tribulation, and poverty…” (Revelation 2:9). By the way, the Greek word translated there as “poverty” isn’t even the typical one for “poverty.” Instead, it’s a special one that describes abject poverty.

To make matters worse, the Smyrna church also had to deal with a group Jesus called “the synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9). This was the city’s Jewish synagogue, whose members were motivated by Satan to persecute the city’s Christians. The members of this synagogue were Jews in the genetic sense but not in the spiritual sense (Romans 2:28-29). Their true religion was the worship of Caesar, and they allied themselves with the Romans in persecuting Smyrna’s Christians to the point of death.

This shows us that Satan uses religion, especially any religion that isn’t under the lordship of Jesus Christ, to accomplish his sinister purposes. In the case of the Christians of Smyrna, Satan used the emperor-worship-cult, working hand in hand with the local Jews, to get some of those Christians thrown into prison. Various interpretations have been offered for the “ten days” of the persecution. Some commentators view the days symbolically as ten different waves of persecution that took place under ten different Roman emperors beginning with Nero and ending with Diocletian. Others see them as alluding specifically to the ten-year persecution that took place during the reign of Diocletian. Others interpret the days literally, the idea being that the imprisonment and persecution would be brief but intense.

I tend to side with those who interpret the “ten days” literally, but the overriding point in all the interpretations is that remaining faithful to Jesus would result in the persecution and martyrdom of some of Smyrna’s Christians. As evidence of how bad the persecution would become, historical records tell us that fifty years or so after Jesus spoke these words Smyrna’s pastor, Polycarp, was burned alive at the age of 86 for refusing to worship Caesar. Those records also specifically mention that the Jews of the city carried logs to the pyre on which he was burned.

As for why God would allow Satan to persecute and imprison the Christians of Smyrna during those “ten days,” we don’t have to guess at an answer. Jesus says, “Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.” Certainly nothing will test one’s devotion to Christ like persecution and imprisonment! Thus continues the classic theme the Bible presents in regards to God counteracting Satan’s work. First, Satan plans to do his evil work in our lives. Second, rather than prevent Satan from doing the work, God allows him to accomplish it. Third, whereas Satan uses the work for one intended purpose, God uses it for another as He brings good out of the bad.

The three promises Jesus made to the Christians of Smyrna were:

  1. Even though those Christians were poor in an earthly sense, they were rich in an eternal one because they had treasure laid up in heaven (Revelation 2:9; Matthew 6:19-21).
  2. Just as the winning athletes of Rome’s athletic games received crowning wreaths placed atop their heads, the Christians of Smyrna would receive crowns of life as heavenly rewards for their efforts (Revelation 2:10; James 1:12).
  3. Those Christians would not be hurt by the second death (Revelation 2:11), which is eternal banishment to the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

To get back to the subject of this post, though, Satan worked through human means to get some of the Christians of Smyrna thrown into prison. And if he had the power to do that to them, he can surely create all kinds of injustices (including imprisonment) for Christians today. If you think Christian persecution and imprisonment was something that only happened in the days of the early church, you don’t have a clue what is happening to Christians in various parts of the world in this 21st century.

But lest we walk around scared to death, wondering where Satan is going to strike next, we Christians would do well to read again Christ’s words to those Christians of Smyrna: “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer” (Revelation 2:10). That seems like such an odd thing to say, doesn’t it? I mean, aren’t persecution and arrest frightful things? Well, from a worldly perspective they obviously are, but from an eternal one they only produce greater reward for the Christian. Those Christians of ancient Smyrna are enjoying those rewards at this very moment, and you and I, Christian, would do well to learn from their excellent example.

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What Satan Did to Paul: A Thorn in the Flesh

“The Wiles of the Devil” series (post #14)

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. (2 Corinthians 12:7, N.K.J.V.)

Fourteen years before Paul wrote the letter we call 2 Corinthians, something astounding happened to him. It was either a vision or an out-of-body experience; even he wasn’t exactly sure. Somehow he was caught up to the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2). Since the “first heaven” is the earth’s atmosphere, and the “second heaven” is the blackness of space, the “third heaven” is God’s heaven, way up there above it all. Paul called it “Paradise” (2 Corinthians 12:4).

In heaven, Paul heard what he described as “inexpressible words, things that man is not permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:4, N.I.V.). These revelations were so otherworldy that if he had preached them on earth his listeners would have exalted him above measure and caused him to become “puffed up” (N.L.T.) with pride (2 Corinthians 12:7). So to prevent any possibility of him becoming so conceited, he was given, to use his own term for it, a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble.

While it’s true that all our English translations go with the translation “thorn” to describe Paul’s problem, the Greek word in question is actually not the common one for thorn. The common word is akantha, which is used in Christ’s parable of the sower and to describe His crown of thorns. But the word Paul used for his thorn is skolops. That’s a word that originally referred to “anything pointed” but eventually came to be used more in reference to a stake. For this reason, J.B. Lightfoot, one of England’s greatest New Testament scholars, held that Paul’s condition would be best translated as “a stake driven through the flesh.”

Theories have been kicked around for centuries as to what Paul’s thorn was. Some believe that it was some type of disease or ailment. Migraines, malaria, epilepsy, a speech impediment (1 Corinthians 2:1-4), earaches, and eye trouble (Galatians 5:14-15; 6:11) have all been suggested.

Others believe that Paul used the word “flesh” to refer not to his physical body but to his inborn nature of sin. This interpretation places the buffeted area inside his inner nature rather than upon his outer body. If the interpretation is correct, it means that his thorn was some type of inner temptation with which he constantly struggled.

And then there are those who believe that the entire question centers around the Greek word translated as “messenger” in the term “messenger of Satan.” That Greek noun is angelos, which comes from the Greek verb angello. Since angello means “to deliver a message,” angelos means “a messenger.” This makes the translation “messenger” in “messenger of Satan” literally correct.

However, while angelos does mean “messenger,” it is also the common New Testament word for “angel.” Angels, of course, are messengers sent from God. This explains why in the more than 180 instances in which angelos is used in the New Testament, it gets translated as “angel” about 99% of the time. The exceptions are this verse as well as Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:24,27; Luke 9:52; and James 2:25.

So, if Paul’s thorn in the flesh was an “angel of Satan,” that would make it a demon that constantly dogged Paul and in some way buffeted him with blows. Obviously the demon wouldn’t have actually possessed Paul, and so how exactly would it have buffeted (beaten) him? One possibility is that it would have struck him with some type of disease or physical ailment. If this was the case, it would put Paul in the company of Job, whom Satan struck bodily without possessing him (Job 2:1-7). It could also account for any migraines, malaria, epilepsy, speech impediment, or eye trouble that Paul might have had.

Another possibility, though, is that the demon would have jumped in and out of others, temporarily possessing them whenever they had dealings with Paul. While this idea might seem far fetched, it should be noted that the Greek word translated as “buffet” is kolaphizo, and the New Testament uses that word exclusively to refer to ill treatment from other humans (Matthew 26:67; Mark 14:65; 1 Corinthians 4:11; 1 Peter 2:20). To further bolster this possibility, it can also be mentioned that God frequently described Israel’s human enemies as “thorns” in the Old Testament (Numbers 33:55; Joshua 23:13; Judges 2:3; Ezekiel 28:24). Paul, being the Old Testament scholar he was, would have known these passages well.

Whatever exactly Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, and however exactly it manifested itself in his life, there are two things that are certain about it. #1: Satan was the source of it. It was, after all, an angelos of Satan. And #2: God allowed Satan to get by with it because He wanted to use it to keep Paul humble. Even though Paul begged God on three separate occasions to make the thorn depart from him, God refused by saying, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8, N.L.T.).

I believe that Satan still imparts thorns to Christians today and that God still lets Him do it to suit His purposes. Not every disease, sickness, ailment, problem situation, or problem person in our lives is a thorn, but it’s possible that some of them are. The trick is to have the spiritual discernment to recognize a thorn (an angelos of Satan) for what it is. For that you need God’s help.

Once God has made it clear to you that you are dealing with a Satan-sent thorn, you have every right to ask Him to remove it from your life. Just know going in, though, that He has every right to answer your request the same way He answered Paul’s. And if He does choose to allow your thorn to continue to buffet you, that’s when the hardest part will begin for you. You will need great faith, great trust, and great commitment to stick with God in the midst of your buffeting. But, like Paul, what you will find is that God’s grace will be enough to keep you moving, and His power will be evidenced more through your weakness than it ever could be through your strength.

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What Satan Did to Paul: Hindrance

“The Wiles of the Devil” series (post #13)

Therefore we wanted to come to you — even I, Paul, time and time again — but Satan hindered us. (1 Thessalonians 2:18, N.K.J.V.)

How many times has Satan blocked the progress of God’s people? How many times has he ruined God-inspired plans? How many times has he thwarted God’s will? The apostle Paul has been called the greatest Christian who ever lived, and yet even he fell victim to Satan’s hindrance.

Thessalonica was a major port city that boasted a population of 200,000. It was the capital city of the Roman province of Macedonia. During Paul’s second missionary journey, he and his ministry team visited the city and stayed in the home of a man named Jason (Acts 17:1-9). A fledgling church of Gentiles and believing Jews was formed, and Paul and his team planned to remain in the city for an extended time and get the new church off to a good start.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t allowed to happen as a roughneck mob led by unbelieving Jews stormed Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas (Acts 17:5). The two weren’t there at the time, so the mob dragged Jason before the city officials on the charge of aiding and abetting those who were teaching that Jesus, rather than Caesar, was King (Acts 17:6-7). A compromise was struck when Jason agreed to post a bond, evidently which was forfeitable if there was any more trouble (Acts 17:8-9).

That night the Christians of Thessalonica helped Paul and Silas covertly leave the city and begin the forty-mile trip to Berea. Once in Berea, the pair found that the Bereans were exceedingly open to the gospel (Acts 17:10-11). So an effective ministry was begun there that continued until those unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica showed up there too and forced Paul to flee town again (Acts 17:12-13). By this time, Timothy had joined Paul and Silas in Berea, and so he and Silas remained there as Paul headed for Athens (Acts 17:14). Not long afterward, Silas and Timothy joined Paul in Athens (Acts 17:15).

Once Paul’s team was reunited in Athens, he sent Silas and Timothy back to Macedonia to minister to its fledgling churches (Acts 18:5). Prominent on that list was the new church in Thessalonica, to which Timothy was sent (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5). Timothy remained in Thessalonica for a few months before rejoining Paul, who was now ministering in Corinth (Acts 18:1). Timothy’s glowing report of how well the young church of Thessalonica was doing warmed Paul’s heart so much that he promptly wrote the letter we call the book of 1 Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 3:6-10).

I’ve included this background information on Paul’s relationship with the church at Thessalonica to help you understand his fervent desire to revisit that church. From his perspective, his ministry there had been aborted by those unbelieving Jews who had forced him to leave town. So while he was delighted that the church had continued to thrive both on its own and under Timothy’s temporary leadership, he still thought of those Christians as his spiritual children (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12) and wanted to complete the start-up ministry he had begun there. More or less, all through his stops in Berea, Athens, and Corinth, he had been trying to get back to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:17). But he hadn’t been able to do it because Satan had hindered him.

The Greek word translated as “hindered” in the K.J.V. and N.K.J.V. is enkopto. It’s a word that literally means “to cut into.” It was used in reference to the breaking up of a road or the placing of an obstacle in a path. Other translations translate it as: “blocked our way” (New Revised Standard); “thwarted” (New American Standard);  “stopped” (New International Version); “prevented” (New Living Translation); and “hindered and impeded” (The Amplified Bible).

Paul doesn’t explain precisely how he was hindered from returning to Thessalonica, but it seems likely that it had something to do with those unbelieving Jews who had run him out of town in the first place. Prominent commentators Charles Ryrie and John MaCarthur both suggest that the roadblock was created by that bond that Jason had been forced to post to avoid jail time in Thessalonica. Perhaps Paul knew that if he returned to the city his friend Jason would either be jailed or at least forced to pay the bond money.

If this working theory is correct, it means that Satan didn’t hinder Paul’s return to Thessalonica by stationing demons along the road leading into the city. He didn’t strike Paul with physical sickness. He didn’t order a demon to whisper into Paul’s ear and influence him to go to other places. Instead, he prevented Paul’s return by working through the individualistic, willful, ungodly actions of those unbelieving Jews and the circumstances those actions created.

In my own life and ministry, I can point to multiple times when Satan has used this same method to block God’s will from coming to pass in my life. I’ve been forced to watch helplessly as the devil has incorporated people’s sinful motivations, wrong decisions, and lack of discernment into his plans to keep me out of places and ministry fields where God wanted me to be. Trust me, it’s a frustrating experience. You know where God wants you to be, but circumstances beyond your control — circumstances used by Satan — prevent you from getting there.

The takeaway lesson from this post is simple: Satan is a master at using people and circumstances to thwart God’s will and keep the Christian away from God-appointed places. John Calvin spoke well when he said, “Whenever the ungodly cause us trouble, they are fighting under the banner of Satan, and are his instruments for harassing us.” Such people might not even realize they are fighting under Satan’s banner, but that won’t change the fact that they are.

Christian, if you keep living you’ll eventually find yourself in a situation where God wants you in a certain place but Satan has barricaded your road to get there. At that point the best you can do is what Paul did in Berea, Athens, and Corinth: Serve the Lord where you are! Yes, your Thessalonica is important, and you should never stop trying to get there. But even as you are doing that don’t forget about your service to your Bereans, Athenians, and Corinthians. After all, those people count too and your ministry to them will be God’s way of bringing very real good out of Satan’s very real bad.

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What Satan Did to Ananias and Sapphira: Motivation

“The Wiles of the Devil” series (post #12)

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?” (Acts 5:3, N.K.J.V.)

The husband and wife team of Ananias and Sapphira were part of the early church in Jerusalem. That church was nothing less than the world’s first church, and it was a “megachurch” from its very inception. It was birthed on site in Jerusalem when approximately 3,000 people got saved and baptized following Peter’s powerful sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41).

The new church met daily in the Jewish temple complex, possibly during the regular Jewish times of prayer at the temple (Acts 3:1). A popular meeting spot was Solomon’s Porch (Acts 3:11; 5:12), which was located on the east side of the complex and was covered with a roof. But the members also met regularly in homes for meals and fellowship (Acts 2:46-47). According to Acts 2:42, the church programs were: continuing in the apostles’ teaching (which included evangelism and baptism), fellowshipping with one another, breaking bread (which included partaking of the Lord’s Supper), and praying.

That program worked so well that in just a few weeks the church’s numbers exploded to approximately 5,000 men (Acts 4:4). Who’s to say how many woman and children aren’t even included in that number of 5,000 men? Whatever the true number of church members was, it would continue to multiply as the church kept on spreading the gospel and kept on turning new converts into full-fledged disciples (Acts 6:7).

And there was one other fascinating aspect to the first church in Jerusalem: It was communal. Two passages tell us this:

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possession and goods, and divided them among all, as everyone had need. (Acts 2:44-45, N.K.J.V.)

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. (Acts 4:32, N.K.J.V.)

What originally made this communal system necessary was the fact that most of the church’s founding 3,000 members were out-of-towners who didn’t live or work in Jerusalem. They had been visiting Jerusalem to take part in the feast time of Pentecost, had heard Peter’s sermon and gotten saved, and had remained in town to sit under the teaching of Peter and the other apostles and to get to know their new brothers and sisters in Christ. As for the countries and lands from which these foreigners came, Acts 2:8-11 provides an extensive list.

It was the church’s communal system that set the stage for the sin of Ananias and Sapphira. The couple sold some land and secretly kept a certain percentage of the profits for themselves. Then they deceptively presented the remaining percentage to the apostles as if it constituted the full amount of the sale (Acts 5:1-2).

To be clear, their sin had nothing to do with keeping the land, selling it, or even holding back a percentage of the profits. The communal system was completely voluntary, and everyone understood that the couple had the right to do whatever they wanted to do with their property and its proceeds (Acts 5:3-4). The line of sin was crossed when Ananias made a show of presenting the monetary gift as if it was the entire sale price. That was deceitful. That was dishonest. That was lying. Since Peter described the act as lying to the Holy Spirit, it seems likely that Ananias and Sapphira had promised to donate the full amount of the sale.

So, who motivated Ananias and Sapphira to do such a thing? It was Satan. Peter rebuked Ananias by saying, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?” The Greek word translated as “filled” is the same one that is used in reference to those early Christians being “filled” with the Holy Spirit. What such a filling amounts to is control. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be controlled by the Spirit; to be filled with Satan is to be controlled by Satan.

The Bible doesn’t tell us how Peter knew that Ananias’ gift wasn’t the complete amount. Perhaps he had heard how much the couple had made on the sale. Or perhaps the Holy Spirit gave him the spiritual discernment on the spot. We also aren’t told why Peter blamed their motivation on Satan. Evidently the Holy Spirit game him special insight about that. What we know for sure is that Peter came down like a sledgehammer on Ananias, saying of the possession:

“While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:4, N.K.J.V.)

You’ll notice that Peter didn’t prophesy doom upon Ananias. Nevertheless, God sent it. As soon as Peter’s words were uttered, Ananias dropped dead on the spot. In the wake of that shocking death, the Bible says, “…great fear came upon all those who had heard these things” (Acts 5:5, N.K.J.V.). Yes, that will do it. If my preacher blasted one of my fellow church members concerning some sin, and that church member immediately fell down dead, that would get my attention too.

For some reason, Sapphira was not with Ananias when Peter confronted him. It wasn’t until three hours later that she approached Peter (Acts 5:7). As she came, she didn’t know that her husband was not only dead but was already buried (Acts 5:6)! My guess is that she asked Peter if Ananias had presented their donation to him, but the Bible doesn’t record the entire conversation. It opens the encounter with Peter asking Sapphira, “Is this the price you and Ananias received for the land?” That simple question provided Sapphira with a chance to confess. However, in clear evidence that she had been in collusion with the plan, she kept up the lie by answering, “Yes, that is the price.”

What followed next was every bit as shocking as the previous death of Ananias:

Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Then immediately she fell down dead at his feet and breathed her last. And the young me came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. (Acts 5:9-11, N.K.J.V.)

There is some debate as to whether or not Ananias and Sapphira were legitimate Christians. Some classify them as lost unbelievers who shouldn’t have been “church members” anyway. This view is supported by the fact that the Bible never specifically calls them “believers” (Acts 5:14) or part of the “brethren” (Acts 6:3).

Others, however, classify them as true Christians and point out that the terms “believers” and “brethren” are rarely used to describe any of the members of the Jerusalem church. Also, the fact that the couple were able to lie to the Holy Spirit and test Him seems to show that the Spirit indwelt each of them. The Bible doesn’t use such language in regards to the Holy Spirit’s dealings with lost unbelievers.

As for me, my take is that Ananias and Sapphira were true Christians who committed what 1 John 5:16-17 describes as “sin leading to death” (N.K.J.V.). Later on, some of the Christians of the church in Corinth would commit this same type of sin (1 Corinthians 11:29-32). If this is a correct interpretation, the souls of Ananias and Sapphira went to heaven at the moment of their physical deaths (2 Corinthians 5:1-8).

Here’s something else: It is a Bible fact that God tends to judge sin more severely at the beginning of a new era. First, at the beginning of the age of the law, He sent fire down from heaven to consume Nadab and Abihu (two priests, two sons of the high priest Aaron) for using “unauthorized fire” (N.I.V.) in the tabernacle (Leviticus 10:1-3). Second, in the early days of Israel’s conquest of Canaan, He commanded that Achan and his family be burned because Achan disobeyed the order regarding the spoils of Israel’s victory over Jericho (Joshua 7:1-26). Third, in those earliest days of the church age, God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead.

But let me close out this post by helping you apply this terrifying story to your life. Whether you are a Christian or not, you are susceptible to Satan motivating you to commit sin. Why are prophecies about Satan woven into God’s condemnation of the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14:3-21? It’s because God wants us to understand that Satan was the motivating force behind that earthly king’s decisions. In Ezekiel 28:1-19, God does the same thing in His condemnation of the King of Tyre. The point of both passages, not to mention this story from Acts 5:1-11, is that Satan really does have the power to motivate people to do his bidding. Whether you are a unbelieving king or a Christian commoner, he can motivate you to do bad things. So be warned, be wise, and beware.





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