The Spirit World: The Deceivers


Another look at the story of the fall in Genesis 3 shows that there was more to Eve’s temptation than luring her with thoughts of a delicious apple (or whatever it was). The serpent entered the picture, and we are told that he is craftier than any other beast of the field. His capacity for speech seemed a good clue for that observation.

He uses his craftiness to introduce himself with a curious question. “He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”[1] This is what the rhetoricians call a loaded question. It ranks right up there with “have you stopped beating your wife?” There is no good answer to the question because any attempt at answering it could have sprung back in Eve’s face.

For example, what if Eve had pointed out that she had never actually heard God give the prohibition? She, after all, was still part of the body of Adam when God told him “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”[2] So, she could have said “no,” but that would not have been exactly honest. No doubt Adam had briefed his wife on the importance of avoiding the tree. This is clear from the answer she did give.

But she could not precisely answer “yes” either. God had not prohibited any of the trees of the garden, as the serpent’s question suggested. In fact, of the multitude of beautiful and delicious fruits available, it was only one that was taboo. So, answering the serpent’s question with a “yes” would be uncalled-for.

Eve tried to respond to the serpent as best as she knew how. Her answers seem to have added a bit more to the prohibition than what was originally there:  “And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’”[3]

Scripture does not record God saying that the humans could not touch the tree or its fruit. His prohibitions appear to have been strictly against eating it. Either Eve is stretching the command here, or she may be reflecting the command as she heard it from Adam. Either way, the serpent senses that this half-truth can be very useful to him.

Notice the bait that the serpent presents to Eve to get her to simply take the fruit into her hand: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”[4] The serpent suggests not that the prohibition is untrue, but that there is another reason why God would not want humans eating of this special fruit.

Look at what Eve sees in the forbidden fruit now:

It is “good for food.” Perhaps Eve was hungry. It makes sense that the serpent would look for an opportune time to tempt Eve. Hunger is not a temptation, but it is an incubator in which temptation can grow and become strong. Undoubtedly, she had not been fasting for over a month as Jesus had been when the tempter came to him, but she was probably just hungry enough for her stomach to allow deception to overrule her mind.

There was nothing wrong with Eve’s desire for food, or with her awareness that this fruit could appease that hunger. Her problem was that she had taken her eyes off all the rest of the garden, and focused her hunger on the one fruit that was forbidden. Her hunger alone would never have driven her to take of that tree. She was being deceived.

It is “a delight to the eyes.” Eve, like most women, appreciates beautiful things. She has an appreciation for the glory of God reflected in the things he has created. She sees that glory there in that fruit. She sees it because it is really there. The Bible does not say that the forbidden fruit was a hideous warped thing. It was really beautiful, and Eve enjoyed staring at it.

Again, God had apparently not prohibited looking at the fruit. But Eve’s problem was that as she looked, the appeal of this fruit became an obsession. The beauty of this one thing seems to have clouded her mind to all the beautiful things in all of Eden that the Lord had not forbidden.

The sons of Eve follow in her footsteps. God grants most of us the joy of beautiful possessions, and the thrill of a beautiful partner to share life with. How do we respond to these acts of grace? We covet other people’s stuff, and desire other people’s wives. We are deceived by the same deception that our mother faced in Eden. But, unlike her, we cannot claim ignorance of the outcome. We know that coveting what does not belong to us will lead to loss of what does – but we do it anyway. Stupid.

Back to Eve – the desire to see something beautiful and to eat something scrumptious was apparently not enough to convince her. But she kept looking, and kept listening to the serpent’s words. Those words rolled around in her head. Suddenly, this fruit is something more:

It is “to be desired to make one wise.” She and Adam had an entire garden filled with discoveries. God had designed them to rule over all his domains. He had given Adam the work of cultivating the garden and keeping it. Adam had also enjoyed learning about all the different kinds of animals, and perhaps the plants as well. But this particular plant offered a short-cut to the possession of immediate wisdom. The serpent had said “that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”[5]

What a tremendous temptation that was! To go from creature status to like-the-creator status in just one bite – now that is discovery. Eve knew that God’s goal was for the two of them to rule over God’s creation. She reasoned “Who is better able to rule God’s creation than someone like him?”

She had convinced herself to take the fruit in her hands. Now what? Well – first of all, she did not turn into a pillar of salt. She did not die right there on the spot. So, it must not have been true that God had prohibited merely touching the tree. If he had, Eve would have gone “poof” and God would have had to go back and do more surgery to give Adam wife number two.

Well, Eve lets this roll around in her brain also. She has not been struck dead, so she figures she might as well go ahead and take a nibble. “In for a penny, in for a pound.” Well, she ate it, and she did not immediately die. Didn’t God say that she would?

Not exactly. What God had said to Adam was that “in the day that you (as humanity’s representative) eat of it you shall surely die.” Those words “shall surely die” in Hebrew are a combination of two words from the same root. The words literally are “dying, you shall die.” What God had warned Adam of is that from the very moment that he ate of the tree, he, and all of those in him (including Eve) would become dying – mortal. That mortality would mean that each person in Adam would eventually die. That was the “you shall die” part.

I am sure that Eve did not understand the subtleties of Proto-Semitic grammar, and did not think much about what might happen later. All she knew was that she had eaten of the forbidden fruit and had lived to tell about it. That was enough for her to believe what the serpent had told her.

From that moment, she became in league with the devil. The very next thing she did was grab her husband and tell him “eat this” and he did. Before either of them had finished digesting their snack, they both knew what it meant to be on the wrong side of God. The wisdom that they had sought – knowing good and evil – did not turn out to be such a good thing after all.

They looked at each other and both realized that they were naked. They had been naked before, and were not ashamed.[6] Now they were naked and felt shame. Why? They had lost the glory of innocence.

This story from ancient history reminds us that when temptation is not enough, the tempters will use deception to enslave us. They organize humans with political and religious systems that perpetuate shared deceptions. They cleverly mix lies with truth. Just a few lies are enough to do damage to a society, and with it.

The father of lies

Jesus called Satan “the father of lies.” He said that the Devil “has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”[7] It should be no surprise, then, that deception is one of the major means that Satan uses to manipulate the nations. The kinds of lies that he uses are like the proverbial “bad apple.” They are mixed with entire barrels of truth, and turn the entire societies that fall for them into rottenness. Unlike God, who never lies,[8] the devil only tells the truth when doing so helps to prop up one of his lies.

Early in Acts, Luke records that Satan had “filled the heart” of Ananias to lie about some money that he gave.[9] Satan did not object to Ananias’ giving to the ministry, because he could gain supremacy in the lives of Ananias and his wife Sapphira by deceiving them into thinking that Jesus would not mind their holding back some of the money. The Holy Spirit (who does not like to be lied to) made this deception backfire by exposing it, and killing the two who had been partners with the devil in the conspiracy.


The Devil has deceived a great multitude of people into worshiping and serving “the creature rather than the Creator.”[10] In some cultures. this involves the veneration or manipulation of carved, printed or fashioned images. In other cultures, people worship themselves and pretend that the creature has the same status as the creator. Either way, deception has occurred, and it has caused the deceived to exchange “the truth about God for a lie.”[11]

The apostle Paul had warned the Corinthians of this tendency by saying that he was “afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”[12] He wrote to his partner, Timothy that “evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”[13]

Another significant text is where Paul warns the Colossians against the heresy that seeks to turn them away from the true faith. He tells them, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”[14] It is these deceiving elemental spirits (demons) who are the author of human tradition, particularly when it conflicts with the gospel of Christ.

Only a small percentage of humanity would knowingly follow the teachings and ways of Satan and the demons. For that reason, they must deceive in the darkness of anonymity. They must influence people to do their will, while at the same time convincing them that they are doing their own will.


The apostle John speaks of “many deceivers” who “have gone into the world.”[15] He is speaking of false prophets, but perhaps also referring to the spirit beings who influence them. He goes on to say that “Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”[16] He warns against those who go ahead and do not “abide in the teaching of Christ.”[17]

Doctrine mattered to John. He ministered during a time when pagan doctrine was seeping into the church – doctrine that would eventually turn the church into a formal, ritualistic shell of its former self. It would take centuries of reform and revival for the church to thrive again. Satan and the demons did this, not by turning people from Christ, but by deceiving them into believing wrong things about him.

When John wrote Revelation, he recorded the fate of Satan. The deceiver will be thrown into the bottomless pit, or abyss. The purpose of this punishment is so that he is out of the way while you and I have the chance to reign with Christ. John saw a mighty angel throw “him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer.”[18] This incarceration will take place after Christ returns, and before judgment day. It will last for 1,000 years.After that period of time, Satan will be released “and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle.”[19] He will be utterly defeated at that battle, but he will have managed to deceive many again – even after a 1,000 year reign of righteousness on earth without his influence.


To be “taken captive” is to be in bondage, and need deliverance. There is just as much potential for a person to be taken captive by a false teaching as there is for her to be in bondage due to giving in to temptation. The bondage will progress naturally if it is never challenged by someone ministering deliverance by God’s grace.

Some can be in a slight state of bondage for years – as long as there is no effort from an intercessor to set her free. The longer a person is in bondage, the harder it will be to set her free. Usually arguments – even biblical arguments – have little effect. The reason is that deception permeates the heart as well as the head.

If you seek to minister deliverance to someone who has been deceived by demons, it is probably best not to try to reason with her – at least not in the sense of a debate on the issues. Proclaim the gospel of salvation by grace bought by the blood of Christ. Use this teaching as an anchor, and you will find that the demonically deceived will be less liable to drift away into the depths of her own deception. Patience is also called for, because those who are enslaved through deception cannot be set free easily.


The apostles James[20] and Peter[21] both encourage believers to resist the devil. Resistance – when having to do with deception – means having a firm grasp on the truth. This suggests that the best way to fight bondage in this area on a personal level is to get a good strong and comprehensive understanding of what God says in his Word.

Paul mentioned to the Colossians that he rejoiced to see the “the firmness of (their) faith in Christ.”[22] That firm faith can only come with time spent learning and applying God’s Word.

Learning to resist in the particular areas where demons seek to deceive you will require specific attention to your own personal history. You must remember the specific areas in your life where you have allowed yourself to be deceived. You must spend time building up your faith and making it more firm in those specific areas. The battlefield of your mind requires shoring up in the places where the defenses have proven weak in the past. Otherwise, the Adversary will simply keep attacking where he knows the resistance is low.


Remember that the easiest way for demons to continue winning the battles they fight with you is for you to ignore their existence. As long as you are convinced that every challenge you face in your spiritual life is due to your own desires or sinful nature, you are in danger of falling for deceptions that keep you sinning. The demons are creatures of darkness. They will not expose themselves to the light unless they feel doing so will give them an advantage. Their usual modus operandi is to remain in the background – the darkness.

A particularly effective way of deceiving that the demons often utilize is accusation. Dealing with this demonic strategy will be the subject of the next post.

By Rev. Jefferson Vann

(Rev. Jefferson Vann is a graduate of Berkshire Christian College, Columbia International University and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He and his wife Penny have been involved in Advent Christian ministry since 1984, serving as missionaries in the Philippines and New Zealand. Jeff is the author of “An Advent Christian Systematic Theology” and “Another Bible Commentary” and is a contributing editor to “Henceforth …”)


[1] Genesis 3:1.

[2] Genesis 2:17.

[3] Genesis 3:2-3.

[4] Genesis 3:4-5.

[5] Genesis 3:5.

[6] Genesis 2:25.

[7] John 8:44.

[8] Titus 1:2.

[9] Acts 5:3.

[10] Romans 1:25.

[11] Romans 1:25.

[12] 2 Corinthians 11:3.

[13] 2 Timothy 3:13.

[14] Colossians 2:8

[15] 2 John 1:7.

[16] 2 John 1:7.

[17] 2 John 1:9.

[18] Revelation 20:3.

[19] Revelation 20:8.

[20] James 4:7.

[21] 1 Peter 5:9.

[22] Colossians 2:5.

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