War is the keyword of the Apocalypse; war on a scale undreamed of by mortal man; war between vast angelic powers of light and darkness; war by the dragon, and the deceived world-powers upon the saints; war by the same world-powers against the Lamb; war by the dragon upon the Church; war in many phases and forms, until the end when the Lamb overcomes, and they also overcome who are with Him, called and chosen and faithful (Rev. 17: 14).
The world is now drawing nearer to the "time of the end," characterized by the deception depicted in the Apocalypse as being world-wide; when there will be deception of nations, and individuals, on such a vast scale that the deceiver will practically have the whole earth under his control. Ere this climax is reached there will be preliminary stages of the deceiver's working, marked by the widespread deception of individuals, both within and without the Church, beyond the ordinary condition of deception in which the unregenerate world is lying.
To understand why the deceiver will be able to produce the world-wide deception depicted in the Apocalypse, which will permit the supernatural powers to carry out their will, and drive nations and men into active rebellion against God, we need clearly to grasp what the Scriptures say about unregenerate men in their normal condition, and the world in its fallen state.
If Satan is described in the Apocalypse as the deceiver of the whole earth, he has been so from the beginning. "The whole world lieth in the evil one" (1 John 5: 19), said the Apostle, to whom was given the Revelation, describing the world as already lying deep in darkness through the deception of the evil one, and blindly led by him through vast evil spirit hosts under his control.
The word "deceived" is, according to the Scripture, the description of every unregenerate human being, without distinction of persons, race, culture, or sex. "We also were . . . deceived" (Titus 3: 3), said Paul the Apostle, although in his "deceived" condition he was a religious man, walking according to the righteousness of the law, blameless (Phil. 3: 6).
Every unregenerate man first of all is deceived by his own deceitful heart (Jer. 17: 9; Isa. 44: 20), and deceived by sin (Heb. 3: 13); the god of this world adding the "blinding of the mind" lest the light of the gospel of Christ should dispel the darkness (2 Cor. 4: 4). And the deception of the evil one does not end when the regenerating life of God reaches the man, for the blinding of the mind is only removed just so far as the deceptive lies of Satan are dislodged by the light of truth.
Even though the heart is renewed, and the will has turned to God, yet the deeply ingrained disposition to self-deception, and the presence, in some measure, of the blinding power of the deceiver on the mind, betrays itself in many forms, as the following statements from Scripture show :--The man is deceived if he is a hearer, and not a doer of the Word of God (Jas. 1: 22).
Deceived! How the word repels, and how involuntarily every human being resents it as applied to himself, not knowing that the very repulsion is the work of the deceiver, for the purpose of keeping the deceived ones from knowing the truth, and being set free from deception. If men can be so easily deceived by the deception arising from their own fallen nature, how eagerly will the forces of Satan seek to add to it and not diminish it by one iota. How keenly will they work to keep men in bondage to the old creation, out of which will spring multitudinous forms of self-deception, enabling them the more readily to carry on their deceiving work. Their methods of deception are old and new, adapted to suit the nature, state, and circumstances of the victim. Instigated by hatred, malice, and bitter ill-will towards mankind and all goodness, the emissaries of Satan do not fail to execute their plans, with a perseverance worthy to be imitated by him who fain would reach his goal.
The arch-deceiver is not only the deceiver of the whole unregenerate world, but of the children of God also; with this difference, that in the deception he seeks to practise upon the saints, he changes his tactics, and works with acutest strategy, in wiles of error, and deception concerning the things of God (Matt. 24: 24; 2 Cor. 11: 3, 13, 14, 15).
The chief weapon which the deceiver-prince of darkness relies upon to keep the world in his power, is deception, and deception planned to beguile men at every stage of life; deception (1) of the unregenerate who are already deceived by sin; (2) deception suited to the carnal Christian; (3) and deception fitted to the spiritual believer, who has passed out of the preceding stages into a realm where he will be open to meet more subtle wiles. Let the deception be removed which holds the man in the earlier days of his unregenerate condition, and in the stage of the carnal Christian life; when he emerges into the heavenly places, described by Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians, he will find himself in the very keenest workings of the wiles of the deceiver, where the deceiving spirits are actively at work attacking those who are united to the risen Lord.
In the Apocalypse, we have the full unveiling of the Satanic confederacy in widespread control of the whole earth, and the war upon the saints as a whole; but the work of the deceiver among the foremost saints of God is especially depicted in the Ephesian letter of the apostle Paul, where, in Ephesians 6: 10- 18, we have the veil drawn aside from the Satanic powers, showing their war upon the Church of God, and the individual believer's armour and weapons for conquering the foe. From this passage we learn that in the plane of the believer's highest experience of union with the Lord, and in the "high places" of the spiritual maturity of the Church, will the keenest and closest battle be fought with the deceiver and his hosts.
Hence as the Church of Christ draws near to the time of the end, and is, by the inworking power of the Holy Spirit, being matured for translation, the full force of the deceiver and his hosts of lying spirits will be directed upon the living members of the Body of Christ. A glimpse into this onslaught of deceiving spirits upon the people of God in the close of the age, is given in the Gospel of Matthew, where the Lord uses the word deceived in describing some of the special marks of the latter days. He said: "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My Name, saying, 'I am Christ:' and shall lead many astray" (Matt. 24: 4, 5, A.V. and R.V.); "and many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many" (Matt. 24: 11, A.V.). "There shall arise false christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray [or "deceive" A.V.] if possible, even the elect" (Matt. 24: 24).
The special form of deception is said also to be in connection with spiritual, and not worldly, things; incidentally showing that the people of God, at the time of the end, will be expecting the coming of the Lord, and therefore be keenly awake to all movements from the supernatural world, in such a measure that deceiving spirits will be able to take advantage of it, and anticipate the Lord's appearing by "false Christs" and false signs and wonders; or mix their counterfeits with the true manifestations of the Spirit of God. The Lord says that men will be deceived (1) concerning Christ and His parousia--or Coming; (2) concerning prophecy--or teaching from the spiritual world through inspired messengers; and (3) concerning the giving of proofs of the "teachings" being truly of God, by "signs" and "wonders" so Godlike, and therefore so exact a counterfeit of the working of God, as to be indistinguishable from the true by those described as His "elect"; who will need to possess some other test than the judging by appearances of a "sign" being from God, if they are to be able to discern the false from the true.
The Apostle Paul's words to Timothy, containing the special prophecy given to him by the Holy Spirit for the Church of Christ in the last days of the dispensation, exactly coincide with the words of the Lord recorded by Matthew.
The two letters of Paul to Timothy are the last epistles that he wrote ere his departure to be with Christ. Both were written in prison, and Paul's prison was to him what Patmos was to John, when he was "in spirit" (Rev. 1: 10)note 1 shown things to come. Paul was giving his last directions to Timothy for the ordering of the Church of God, right on to the end of her time on earth; giving "rules to guide," not only Timothy, but all God's servants, "in dealing with God's household." In the midst of all these detailed instructions, his keen seer's vision looks on to the "later times"; and by express command of the Spirit of God, he depicts in a few brief sentences, the peril of the Church in those times, in the same way that the Spirit of God gave the prophets of the Old Testament some pregnant prophecy, only to be fully understood after the events had come to pass.
The Apostle said: "The Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, seared in their own conscience as with a hot iron . . " (1 Tim. 4: 1, 2, R.V. m.).
Paul's prophetic statement appears to be all that is foretold in specific words about the Church, and its history, at the close of the dispensation. The Lord spoke in general terms about the dangers which would encompass His people at the time of the end, and Paul wrote to the Thessalonians more fully about the apostasy, and the wicked deceptions of the Lawless one in the last days, but the passage in Timothy is the only one which explicitly shows the special cause of the peril of the Church in its closing days on earth, and how the wicked spirits of Satan would break in upon her members, and by deception beguile some away from their purity of faith in Christ.
The Holy Spirit, in the brief message given to Paul, describes the character and work of the evil spirits, recognizing (1) their existence, (2) their efforts directed towards believers, to deceive them, and by deception draw them away from the path of simple faith in Christ, and all that is included in the "faith once for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3).
That the character of the spirits is described in 1 Tim. 4: 1-3, and not the men they somtimes use in the work of deception, may be understood from the Greek original.note 2
The peril of the Church at the close of the age, is therefore from supernatural beings who are "hypocrites," who pretend to be what they are not, who give "teachings" which appear to make for greater holiness, by producing ascetic severity to the "flesh," but who themselves are wicked and unclean, and bring in to those they deceive the foulness of their own presence. Where they deceive they gain possession; and whilst the deceived believer thinks he is more "holy," and more "sanctified," and more delivered from the desires of the flesh, these hypocritical spirits defile the deceived one by their presence, and under cover of sanctity hold their ground, and hide their workings.
The peril concerns every child of God, and no spiritual believer dare say he is exempt from peril. The prophecy of the Holy Spirit declares, that (1) "some" shall fall away from the faith; (2) the reason for the fall will be a giving heed to deceiving spirits, i.e., the nature of their working being not known evil, but deception, which is a covered working. The essence of deception is that the operation is looked upon as sincere and pure. (3) The nature of the deception will be in doctrines of demons, i.e., the deception will be in a doctrinal sphere. (4) The way of deception will be that the "doctrines" are delivered with "hypocrisy," i.e. spoken as if true. (5) Two instances of the effect of these evil spirit doctrines are given: (a) the forbidding of marriage, and (b) abstaining from meats; both, said Paul "created by God," Therefore their teaching is marked by opposition to God, even in His work as Creator.
Demoniacal "doctrines" have been generally tabulated as either belonging to the Church of Rome, because of the two marked results of demon teaching mentioned by Paul, which characterise that Church; or later "cults" of the twentieth century, with their omission of the fact of sin, and the need of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and a Divine Saviour. But there is a vast realm of doctrinal deception by deceiving spirits, penetrating, and interpenetrating Evangelical Christendom, by which evil spirits, in more or less degree, influence the lives even of Christian men, and bring them under their power; even spiritual Christians being thus affected on the plane described by the Apostle, where believers united to the Risen Christ meet "spiritual wickedness" in "heavenly places." For the Satanic forces described in Eph. 6: 12, are shown to be divided into (1) "Principalities"--force and dominion dealing with nations and governments; (2) "Powers"--having authority and power of action in all the spheres open to them; (3) " World- rulers"--governing the darkness, and blindness of the world at large; (4) "Wicked spirits" in the heavenly places--their forces being directed in, and upon the Church of Jesus Christ, in "wiles," "fiery darts," onslaughts, and every conceivable deception over "doctrines" which they are capable of planning.
The peril of the household of God is therefore not of a few, but all, for obviously none can "fall away from the faith" but those who are actually in the faith to begin with. The peril is from an army of teaching spirits poured forth by Satan upon all who would be open to "teachings" from the spiritual world, and through ignorance of such a danger, be unable to detect the wiles of the enemy.
The peril assails the Church from the supernatural world, and comes from supernatural spirit-beings who are persons (Mark 1: 25) with intelligent power of planning (Matt. 12: 44, 45), with strategy (Eph. 6: 11) the deception of those who "give heed" to them.
The peril is supernatural. And those who are in peril are the spiritual children of God; who are not to be beguiled by the world or the flesh, but who are open to all they can learn of "spiritual" things, with sincere longing to be more "spiritual" and more advanced in the knowledge of God. For deception by doctrines would not concern the world so much as the Church. Evil spirits would not urge spiritual Christians to open sin, such as murder, drink, gambling, etc., but would plan deception in the form of "teaching" and "doctrines," the believer not knowing that deception on "teaching" and "doctrines" gives admission to evil spirits to "possess" the deceived one, as much as through sin.