16.4b And then shall appear the world-deceiver as a son of God. And he
shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be betrayed into his hands. And he shall do godless things that have not been done since the beginning of the age.
C O M M E N T :
This statement must surely stand as the most disturbing prophecy in sacred writing. At least for me it ranks near the top of any list of troubling subjects in Christianity and in life.
It is also even difficult and challenging just to write and think about this conceptually.
What we learn from (what are to me) the many reliable portions of the New Testament is that:
(a) the deception will be pervasive and is certainly seductive of the church membership; and
(b) the nature of the deception includes not just conceptual misinformation, but cognitive functions: Our senses will deceive us.
That being so, it seems hopeless even to raise the subject for a practical discussion–not to mention the unpleasantness if the ontological implications (i.e., what this says about our lowly and really futiles state of existence).
Too, there is so much that could be raised and delved into–far more than my own very limited resources permit.
For now, I would simply note one all-important revelation that God has given me in many dreams and dream-visions, and that is, that the solution and the ‘defense’ against the power of satanic deception of our minds, comes in prayer. When we turn our minds and thoughts and words to God, His saving power in us intensifies immediately.
This is the over-arching thought we must have. Prayer must become a habit of mind and a reflex in every moment-by-moment situation. This, I’ve found, is how God saves us. Of course He can intervene without prayer. But our souls suffer greater trouble, to the degree that our gaze shifts away from His Light, and wavers, and falls upon our troubles instead of our Help.
A second point that I would make is to offer a testimony that I have personally had the unfortunate experience of meeting Satan in a spiritual dimension, to the point that I could interact with him cognitively and in a sensory way. This occurred once, on Maundy Thursday during Orthodox Easter week, 2008.
The topic of Satan and his power and reality, is one which the modern world and even many Christians have a hard time confronting in its true dimensions. It is a topic we tend either to ignore and discount altogether, or try to minimize. Even a conservative popular writer like C.S. Lewis has famously written about how Christians need to strike the right balance, as it were, between taking Satan too seriously, or not seriously enough. (Mere Christianity ) Although Lewis was well-meaning, one must instead consider the darkly troubling reality that the Word gives us, rather than the assurances of any mortal man.
Another huge issue–one which time limits do not even allow me to explore at any length at all, except to mention–is the ambiguous way that Satan is presented in Scripture and in non-canonical ancient Jewish writings. To oversimplify the matter perhaps unpardonably: there are many passages in which Satan is represented as actually, one might say, a ‘part’ of God and/or an agent who is under God’s orders and control, to test and tempt us; but there are also other biblical theologies or rather satanologies, which represent Satan as more of a ‘loose cannon’ of autonomous and self-actualized evil.
Regarding the first ‘model’ of Satan, I have even heard the opinion voiced that this Satan is consciously emulated by or sanctioned in some formal way, by a certain element in rabbinicism. There is a belief that God is a ‘good cop bad cop’ duality, and thus He desired the men play a certain provocative role.
This raises the possibility, then, to my mind at least, that Satan has actually seduced religious leaders of many ilks, by means of religion. (I am of course not speaking exclusively of, nor singling out, any one religion.) I sense a quality in all organized religion, in which an arguably evil or erroneous element is pair with what is obviously good. It is as if Satan were smart enough not to inject his horrors in some overt singularly consistent fashion but, rather, that he instructs duped religious caste elders in a certain manipulativeness of this ‘good cop / bad cop’ quality. In so doing, the clergy believe they serve God.
Perhaps they do! I do not pretend to know the whole truth of any matter. But, in own theology, I believe that Christ taught us to be all Good, and to renounce all evil:
Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruits, nor can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. (Mat 7:17-18)
And also, that we do not need any more teachers, rabbis, or theological instructors!
But you must not be called Rabbi, for One is your teacher, Christ, and you are all brothers. And call no one your father on the earth, for One is your Father in Heaven. Nor be called teachers, for One is your Teacher, even Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever shall exalt himself shall be abased, and he who shall humble himself shall be exalted.
And the meaning of the Parable of the Seven demonic spirits, I believe refers to the spiritual ‘pedigree’ of presumptuous religious leaders.
When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he walks through dry places seeking rest, and finds none. Then he said, I will return into my house from where I came out. And when he has come, he finds it empty, swept, and decorated. [i.e. piety] Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more evil than himself [ambitious but false religious control-freaks], and they enter in and live there. And the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so it also shall be to this evil generation.
On the other side, so to speak, there is a hypothetical ancient school of Judaism, which has only recently been discovered and has been dubbed Enochic, because it relies on this non-canonical texts of 1-2 Enoch. It was not rabbinical, in the sense we know from both the Old and New Testaments. Quite the contrary, it evolved into communitarian perhaps pacifistic Essenism. And it held a radically different view of Satan and the Fallen Angels. This demonology and satanology presents a dualistic cosmos, in which there are Good and Evil souls. God’s salvation enables the Good to extricate themselves and purify completely.
False gospels, particularly those of the Protestants, unfortunately encourage admixing, hybridization and a false comfort that we can engage in the world on its wicked terms–smugly assured in the illusion that we are “saved by Grace and not by works.”
In this limited allusion to Enochism vs rabbinicism that I offer you, I cannot sort out these paradoxes and conflicts. I would simply commend you to read the several texts of the New Testament regarding Satan and evil. Be sure to include all of them. If time permits, also visit the Old Testament. You will see a bewildering and rather incoherent spectrum.
Scholarly works include three edited or written by Gabriele Boccaccini: Roots of Rabbinic Judaism (Eerdmans, 2002); Enoch and Qumran Origins (Eerdmans, 2005); and Enoch and the Messiah Son of Man (Eerdmans, 2007)
Theologically speaking, we have to consider the whole bewildering gamut of issues. First, we have the matter of defining right-and-wrong (i.e. either in a Torah or in the conscience). A Good God wants to do this. He must also present some kind of rewards-and-punishment system. In so doing, He does indeed become a kind of ‘good cop/ bad cop.’
But we soon discover that the evil sometimes go unpunished. And the righteous suffer unjustly. So, how does God explain this? This is the point of the book of Job and also to some extent, of the Suffering Servant (in Psalms and Isaiah).
Then we have the role of religion. This purports to explain God and to act as an official intermediary. But there is tremendous opportunity for abuses and errors and corruption here. Real evil comes in religious garb! We have God being represented but really misrepresented. And, in a ‘closed’ system, there seems no way for God to circumvent the cultus of myths, lies and the state-sanctioned apparatus which presumes to speak for Him.
Visionaries and dreamers and shamans and prophets arise; but some are deluded, some are false, and some are killed or exiled for their accusations (under the sanction of the religious establishment) and for their troubles.
And the priestly guild (in the broad sense, religious or secular) have a way of constructing their role so as to benefit and remunerate themselves. They presumably act in good faith and sincerity. They truly believe they serve God and/or truth and/or progress, the nation, the common good, etc. But in fact, they may well–I would say they typically probably do–serve ‘the Devil’ in the sense that their efforts are incorrect or in error to some degree. A ratcheting effect, or downward spiral occurs, by which corrupt minds descend on a trajectory into ever-worsening darkness.
And this problem again reflects upon God and His Justice. How can He punish his self-styled ‘servant’ who truly do think they serve Him, but actually don’t?
And on and on.
God has a series of problems to solve for us, ranging from practical and communicative, to technical and philosophical.
And one centerpiece of the ambiguity, at least for me, comes in the Temptation narrative of Matt. 4. We have Satan depicted as a kind of necessary element of God’s plan, a ‘hazing rite’ or gauntlet to be endured by the spirit-anointed Jesus; and in this, Satan is remarkably ‘civil’ and well-versed in Scripture, and he is as seemingly reverential of God as is his counterpart.
This does not at all comport with other more distressing Scriptural portrayals of evil, let alone with our experience of it!
Now, this range of literary portraits complicates the discussion even further, if we consider that some of the Scripture may have been written by rabbinically trained theologians who held a certain sense of Satan from their school of thought (such as the narrative in Matt 4); while other Scripture came from men who held a non-rabbinical understanding and training (such as that in the Revelation to John, and the Gospel of John, perhaps).
The DIDACHE does not portray evil and Satan in the moderating way that certain other Scriptures arguably do.
The DIDACHE-Gospel actually, to my view, solves all of the issues as just lightly surveyed above. The DIDACHE-Gospel essentially eliminates the clergy and replaces them with elected local overseers/assistants, who will control not a law code (because the DIDACHE doesn’t need much legal interpretation or emendation), nor does it offer a system of what I unflatteringly call “sheep ‘n’ shekel sheikh-down” sacrifices enriching a caste of priveleged clergy. (Historically, that came later.) Rather, the DIDACHE is a commonwealth order. It is modeled on Essene-like communards. The bounty is transferred to the poor and to the common storehouse for common meals. The ‘overseer’ (stock manager, if you will) does not wear a tall pointed hat or long robes, but receives his cut, fairly and legitimately. But he no longer needs to play the clergy game. He does not need to set himself up as an innovative teacher or guardian of the cultus, because that function is sustained by the DIDACHE text itself.
And this neat near-elimination of the clergy role, I would modestly and respectfully speculate, may accounts for why the would-be clergy and ambitious teachers and rabbis of those times and thereafter, felt threatened and disenfranchised by it. And this is why the went to war (as I assert) against it. And this is why and how they eventually succeeded and replaced the DIDACHE with a corruptive pseudo-Apostolic Constitution, from which a long train of tragedies has ensued since.
May God guide our minds into all truth, to discern Good and Evil, and to make our tree all Good, that our fruit might be all Good. May God deliver us from Evil, rather than toy with it as if we were gods. Amen.
16.8 Then the world shall see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven, and all the holy ones with him, on his royal throne, to judge the world-deceiver and to reward each according to his deeds.