THE FIRST TEMPTATION – The Final Sin

Let me say it up front – unadorned – without apology and accurately. Man, without God, is hopelessly lost. He is like a blind man, in a dark room, looking for a black cat that isn’t there. He doesn’t know whence he came, whither he is tending, how he got here, where that is, if he should get off, or how to go about it if he decides to. Man is totally bankrupt. He possesses absolutely nothing of incorruptible and enduring value. His scientific, philosophical and educational achievements have not even addressed, let alone touched, the real issues of life. With all of his astounding technological advance, he has not nudged his fellows one inch heavenward. He can “bypass” the heart, “transplant” the heart, “counterfeit” the heart, but he cannot make a sinful heart righteous and equip it for eternal living. In the words of Scripture, unsaved men are “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7).

These forceful statements are not presented as journalistic license, exaggeration or hyperbole. They are nonnegotiable facts. And God’s redeemed children need to get this truth imbedded in their minds and lodged in their hearts. Only then can we face life’s issues clearly, and only then will we truly set our affections on things above (Col. 3:2).

There is design, purpose, continuity and consummation to human history. Mankind’s first temptation will also be his final sin. What started in the Garden of Eden will end on the mountains of Jerusalem. But only those who hunger for truth should read further.

IN THE GARDEN:  THE FIRST TEMPTATION

Satan is the archenemy of the souls of men. In the Word of God he is called “the great dragon,” which speaks of his cruelty; “that old serpent,” which suggests his subtle and deceptive character; “the Devil,” which indicates his slanderous nature; and “Satan,”’ which underscores the fact that he is our adversary (Rev. 12:9).

Multitudes deny his existence in the scientific and “enlightened” twentieth century. Still others characterize him as a grotesque being possessing horns, tail and pitchfork, and somehow too Halloweenish and fictional to pose any real threat.

Before his revolt against God Satan was called “Lucifer,” meaning day star (Isa. 14:12) and “the anointed cherub that covereth” (Ezek. 28:14). These names suggest his beauty, prominence and power among the angelic beings. His was the exalted position of guardian of the divine glory.

But lifted up with pride, Satan rebelled against his Creator and Sovereign. From within his heart he declared, “. . . I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation . . . I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13-14). Five times Satan said, “I will.” And God responded, with sovereign, immutable authority, “Yet thou shalt be brought down to sheol, to the sides of the pit” (Isa. 14:15).

It was this very same Satan who entered the Garden of Eden to tempt the first man and woman. He said to mankind’s first parents, “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Satan fell through pride. He tried to ascend to the throne of God – to be equal with God. And in the temptation in the Garden, Satan suggested to Adam and Eve that if they ate of the forbidden fruit, they would be like God – here was an appeal to pride. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6).

Mark it down, circle it, underscore it, color it red, box it in, but never forget it – the fundamental sin of unregenerate man since the beginning of history has been the sin of pride. From this basic sin all else flows. He may give many excuses for rejecting Christ. They are subterfuge. There is really only one fundamental reason why men reject Christ – pride. From the days of Adam and Eve until the present moment of history, man has not wanted God to rule over him. His attitude is expressed in the words of the poem “Invictus,” “I am the captain of my ship, I am the master of my fate . . . .” He may not phrase it that way – he may not even be consciously aware of it – but what man is really saying concerning the triune God’s rule over him is this, “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (Ps. 2:3). Or, in the words of a contemporary song, “I did it my way.”

ON THE MOUNTAIN: THE FINAL SIN

Jesus was leaving. On Palm Sunday the Son of God descended the Mount of Olives, crossed the Kidron Valley, ascended Mount Moriah, entered the Eastern Gate and walked a short distance to the Temple (Mt. 21). The Temple had originally been built as a home for God to dwell in. King David gathered the materials for the house (1 Chr. 22:1-5), and his son built it (2 Chr. 2-5). And at its dedication King Solomon rightly declared, “. . . heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!” (2 Chr. 6:18). Nevertheless, God was pleased in a specialized sense to dwell in that house on Mount Moriah at Jerusalem. And when He did, Israel was the most blessed of all nations. They alone possessed the presence, power, provision and protection of the living God. Heathen nations built houses for their lifeless deities. Israel built a house for the self-existent God who is the fountainhead of all life. And He was pleased to dwell in Israel’s midst. He was their God, and they were His people. But with the passing of centuries, Israel fell into grievous sin. It was left to the Prophet Ezekiel to record the withdrawal of the divine presence from that Temple. First the glory of God moved from over the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies to the threshold of the Temple (Ezek. 10:4); then from the threshold of the Temple to the Eastern Gate (Ezek. 10:18-19); and finally across the Kidron Valley, up the Mount of Olives, and off to the east (Ezek. 11:23). The divine withdrawal from the Temple was one of the most tragic moments in Israel’s history. And over the nation this word could be written, I-chabod,” meaning the glory is departed (1 Sam. 4:21).

The New Testament begins with the Gospel of Matthew’s clarion call for Israel to repent of her sin. There is no explanation for this call to national repentance. None is necessary. It is sin that forced the reluctant withdrawal of God from the midst of His people, and only repentance will permit God’s presence to return. On Palm Sunday Jesus returned to His Father’s house to see if the nation had truly repented. Jesus was God in flesh, “. . . in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). If they had repented, the glory would have returned to the Temple. But sin was still rampant. They had not repented. And so, with righteous indignation, the Son of God turned over the tables of the changers of money and sellers of animals and withdrew from the Temple and city. Of that event Jesus would say, “. . . If thou hadst known,even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hidden from thine eyes” (Lk 19:42).

Israel had rejected her prophets, she had rejected the messengers which God had sent – and now, tragically, she had rejected her long promised Messiah, the Son of God himself (Mt.  23:37).

As a direct result, in solemn words Jesus declared, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Mt. 23:38). They had a magnificent Temple, it took forty-six years to complete (Jn. 2:20), it was truly a wonder to behold, but the glory of God would not dwell within it. He would have gathered the sons of Jacob under His wings like a hen gathers her chicks (tenderly, lovingly, protectively, providingly), but they would not have Him (Mt. 23:37). And so Jesus continued, “. . . Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Mt. 23:39).

With the announcement that Jesus was leaving, the disciples were exceedingly troubled. Above all else they wanted to know the sign of His coming and the sign of the end of the age (Mt. 24:3).

The sign of the end of the age had its origin in the Garden of Eden. It will be the final attempt to enthrone a man in the place of God. As Satan indwelt the serpent in the Garden, he will indwell the Antichrist in the Temple. And as the appeal was to human pride in the first man, so too it will be to the last man. In response to their question the Savior said, “When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whosoever readeth, let him understand)” (Mt. 24:15). “The abomination of desolation” or, better, the abomination that maketh desolate, will be the sign of the end of the age. The “abomination” will be the placing of the image of the Antichrist in the rebuilt Temple in the middle of the seven-year Tribulation period. The placing of a false glory in the house designed for the glory of God will be an abomination of the highest magnitude which will make the Temple unusable and desolate. Daniel the prophet gave an historical precedent for this when he alluded to the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes who, in 168 B.C., polluted the altar at Jerusalem by slaying a pig upon it. He then proceeded to have his soldiers carry the statue of his chief deity, Zeus Olympus (significantly, an image of a man), into the Holy of HoIies (Dan. 8:11-12). Historically, this was an abomination which made the Temple desolate for three years. At the end of the age the Antichrist, ruler of the revived Roman empire (a western confederation of nations), will desecrate the rebuilt Tribulation Temple (Dan. 9:27). He will cause the reinstituted Jewish sacrifices to cease and have an image of himself (the image of a man) placed within the Holy of Holies of the Temple (cp. Dan. 11:36; Mt 24:15; 2 Th. 2:3-5; Rev. 13:13-15). And he will command that men bow to his image. In part, his purpose will be to assimilate all nations and peoples into his worldwide humanistic empire. Those who bow will be given the mark of the beast (Antichrist) and will be able to buy and sell – that is, to function in the society of that day (Rev. 13:16-17; Mt. 25:34-40). Those who do not bow will not be able to function. They will be hunted and hounded, imprisoned and slain (Mt. 24:16-22; Rev. 13:15).

Biblically, the term “Antichrist” is used to describe the attitude and philosophy (spirit) of this unregenerate world system toward God (1 Jn. 4:3). And that attitude and philosophy will ultimately be personified in one being who will himself be called the “Antichrist” (1 Jn. 2:18, 22). The prefix “anti” comes from a Greek preposition meaning both against and in place of. For that reason the Antichrist is described in these words, “Who opposeth [against] and exalteth himself above all that is called God [in place of]” (2 Th. 2:4). When Satan rebelled against his Creator, he sought to be against and in place of God (Isa. 14:13-14). And whenever the Antichrist is referred to, the dominant idea is opposition to and substitution of God (Dan. 11:36; Rev. 13:11-17). That “Antichrist” attitude characterizes the ongoing opposition of this unregenerate world toward its Creator.

FROM THE HEART: THE ULTIMATE REBELLION

Does it strain credibility to suggest that man – intelligent, informed, sophisticated, twentieth century man – would ever bow to the image of a man? That the sign of the end of the age will be the deification of a man by men? It shouldn’t, because that is precisely where human history is unerringly moving. When the Antichrist appears on the stage of history, he will be the most attractive and persuasive of all men.

Clarence Larkin, in his helpful commentary on Revelation, has written concerning the Antichrist, “He will be a ‘composite’ man. One who embraces in his character the abilities and powers of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Xerxes of Persia, Alexander the Great of Greece, and Caesar Augustus of Rome. He will have the marvelous gifts of attracting unregenerate men, and the irresistible fascination of his personality, his versatile attainments, superhuman wisdom, great administrative and executive ability, along with his powers as a consummate flatterer, a brilliant diplomatist, a superb strategist, will make him the most conspicuous and prominent of men. All these gifts will be conferred on him by Satan, whose tool he will be . . . .” Let it be added that Larkin’s superlatives are not an overstatement. For negative purposes, here will be the consummate superman.

Empowered by Satan and aided by his false prophet, the Antichrist will be enthroned at the Temple in Jerusalem. Concerning man’s response to that coming event, the Apostle Paul wrote, “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie” (2 Th. 2:11). Literally, the text says they should believe “the” lie – a specific lie, a definitive lie, an identifiable lie. It was the lie of Satan in the Garden. He said, “. . . in the day ye eat thereof  . . . ye shall be as gods . . .” (Gen. 3:5). What began as rebellion and self-exaltation in the Garden of Eden will find its final hurrah and certain demise in the rebuilt Temple on the mountains of Jerusalem. The deification of man is the theology of humanism. Its deadly venom has spanned at least six thousand years of human history – from Adam to the present day.

Humanistic theology rests on four major pillars. The first pillar is atheism, the belief that there is no God – no Sovereign – no Creator – no being to whom man must one day give an account. Those who hold such a view can be easily described. The Bible says, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God . . .” (Ps. 14:1; 53; 1). The second pillar of humanism is evolution. If the first pillar is accepted, then the second follows quite naturally. If there is no Creator, the only explanation for man’s existence is that he evolved. To believe that man evolved is unrealistic, nonscientific insanity. The evolutionists’ ridicule of those who believe that “God created” is prompted by the fact that our very belief in God condemns their unbelief. The third pillar of humanism comes logically out of the first two. If there is no God and man evolved, there can be no absolutes for life. There is nothing solid or eternal upon which to build one’s life. If man evolved, he is still evolving, and all is flux and change. There is no foundation, all is quicksand. The fourth pillar is pragmatic and relates to values and lifestyle. If there is no God and man evolved, there can be no absolutes or standard of right and wrong. And so the fourth pillar is amorality – simply meaning no morality. From this fourth pillar of humanistic philosophy comes such slogans as, “Let it all hang out,” and “Do your own thing,” and “If it feels good, why not?”

Mark it well, the dignity, nobility and worth of mankind are inseparably wedded to the truth that God created man in His own image out of the dust of the ground. He breathed into him the breath of life so that man became a living soul – an everlasting being. But if there is no God and man evolved, there is no dignity, nobility or worth for mankind. He is simply a higher order of animal being – but an animal. Out of such thinking, knowingly or unknowingly, comes a pro-abortion mentality. After all, if man is only an animal, then what is so wrong about terminating an unwanted pregnancy? And in time, contemporary thinking will conclude, And what’s wrong with terminating the elderly who have outlived their usefulness? After all, if man is only an animal, let’s remember “pets” by the tens of thousands are “put to sleep” every day. And if there are no absolutes – no God-given eternal standards of right and wrong – then what’s really wrong with homosexuality, adultery, drugs, alcoholism, and the wickedness and perversion of every kind which have invaded and now dominate the present hour of history? And that’s right where the planet Earth is at. Humanistic thinking has captured and now controls the minds of men.

How striking, therefore, the words of the great Apostle Paul, “And be not conformed to this world . . .” (Rom. 12:2). That is, be not schemed, fashioned, molded, shaped, put in a box, wrapped and tied with the ribbon of this world’s philosophy – it is the philosophy of “Antichrist.” Every time you turn on the television, read a newspaper, go to work, send your children to secular school, you are being bombarded by a humanistic philosophy based upon the suppositions that there is no God, man evolved, there are no absolutes, so do your own thing. Yes, it’s that bad!

Paul said, “. . . be not conformed to this world . . ..” but in reality this world’s philosophy is squeezing some of us so tightly that we are nigh unto death. Well, what do we do to get out of its suffocating grasp? Paul continued, “. . . but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” (Rom. 12:2). That is, as a believer don’t allow the external philosophy of this unregenerate world to come upon you, to shape and mold your thinking. Rather, be “transformed,” literally metamorphosized or turned inside out, like a caterpillar which becomes a butterfly. Permit the indwelling Spirit within you to come out. But how is that done? “. . . by the renewing of your mind . . .” – by the saturating of your intellect with the truths of the living and powerful Word of God.

In the end, Satan will not triumph. The Antichrist will not prevail. Man will not be deified. The combined forces of darkness, though arrayed against the divine purpose, will not succeed. The omnipotent Father has spoken, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion” (Ps. 2:6).

The enemies of our God and His Christ will be destroyed (2 Th. 2:8; Heb. 2:14; Rev. 20:10-15). And then, “. . . every knee should bow . . . And . . . every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God, the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). It’s true,

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
   Does his successive journeys run,
His kingdom spread from shore to shore
   Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

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