The Jewish Satan
In discussion with believers in an orthodox devil the teacher runs the risk of appearing inconsistent by interpreting each New Testament reference to the devil or satan as a different ‘adversary’ or ‘false accuser’. This study aims to clarify the knotty problem of the “prince of this world”, and to show that many references to the devil and satan concern the Jewish system prevailing in the first century, so that all other New Testament references to them must either be to the Roman system or to our inherent sin.
The “prince of this world” is described as being “cast out”, coming to Jesus, having no part in Him and being “judged”, all during the last few hours before Christ’s death (Jn.12: 31; 14: 30; 16:11). All these descriptions seem to fit the Jewish system as manifested in its various representatives such as the Law, Moses, Caiaphas the High Priest, Judas and the Jews wanting to kill Jesus, and Judas.
At Christ’s death the Mosaic system was done away with (Col. 2:14-17); the
“bondwoman”, representing the Law in the allegory, was “Cast out”
(Gal. 4: 30) - the same words are used about the “prince”.
The “world” in John’s Gospel refers primarily to the Jewish world; its “prince”
can either be a personification of it, or a reference to Caiaphas
the High Priest, whose equivalent name in Hebrew implies ‘Cast out’
and whose rending of his priestly clothes at Christ’s trial declared
him “cast out” of the priesthood (see Lev.10: 6; 21:10). “This world”
and its “prince” are treated in parallel by John (12:31cp. 16:11)-
just as Jesus, the prince of the Kingdom, can be called therefore
“the Kingdom” (Lk. 17:21). Colossians 2:15 describes Christ’s ending
of the Law on the cross as “spoiling principalities and powers”
- the “prince” of the Jewish world being “cast out” ( a similar
idea in Greek to “spoiling” ) would then parallel this. The Jews
“caught” Jesus can cast Him out of the vineyard (Matt. 21: 39) -
but in doing so, they themselves were cast out of the vineyard and
“spoiled” by Jesus (the same word as “caught”). If "the prince
of this world" is a reference to Caiaphas, then we have to
face the fact that this individual is being singled out by the Lord
for very special condemnation, as the very embodiment of 'satan',
sin and its desires, all that was then in opposition to God. This
is confirmed by the Lord's comment to Pilate that "he that
delivered me unto you has the greatest sin" (Jn. 19:11 Gk.-
"greater" in the AV is translated "greatest"
in 1 Cor. 13:13; Mk. 9:34; Mt. 13:32; 18:1,4; 23:11; Lk. 9:46; Lk.
22:24; Lk. 22:26). It was Caiaphas and the Jews who "delivered"
Jesus to Pilate to execute (Mt. 27:2,18; Jn. 18:30,35 s.w.). But
the Lord speaks as if one person amongst them in particular had
delivered Him to Pilate- and that specific individual was Caiaphas.
If Caiaphas had the "greatest sin" in the crucifixion
of God's son, we can understand how he is singled out by the Lord
Jesus for such description as the "prince of this world".
Indeed, expositors such as Jim Granter, Pat Brady and Harry Whittaker
[in The Very Devil] have interpretted "the devil...
that had the power of death" in Heb. 2:14-7 as referring to
After Judas left the upper room we get the impression that Jesus started to talk more earnestly and intensely. Immediately after Judas went out Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified...Little children, yet a little while I am with you...Hereafter I will not talk much (longer) with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me” (Jn. 13: 31& 33; 14: 30). Because He knew Judas would soon return with his men, Christ wanted to give the disciples as much instruction as possible in the time that remained. This would explain the extraordinary intensity of meaning behind the language used in John 14-17.
After He finished, “Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh...” (Jn. 18: 3); “The prince of this world cometh”, Jesus had prophesied, epitomized in the person and attitude of Judas. Christ had told the disciples that “the prince” “hath nothing (cp. no part) in Me” (Jn. 14: 30). Not until Judas appeared with the men would the disciples have realized that he was the betrayer (see Jn.18: 3-5). Jesus knew this would come as a shock to them, and would lead them to question whether they themselves were in Christ; therefore He warned them that Judas, as a manifestation of “the prince of this world”, had no part in Him any longer. For “the devil” of the Jewish authorities and system had put into the heart of Judas to betray the Lord (Jn. 13:2). The whole Jewish leadership were the “betrayers” of Jesus (Acts 7:52) in that Judas, the one singular betrayer, was the epitome of the Jewish system.
The prince having nothing in Christ suggests a reference to Daniel 9: 26: “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, and shall have nothing (A.V. ,margin - i.e. have no part): and the people of the prince that shall come (the Romans) shall destroy the city and the sanctuary”. Thus it is the Jewish world as well as Judas which had nothing in Messiah, and the system they represented was to be destroyed by another (Roman) “prince that shall come” to replace the (Jewish) “prince of this world”. The occurrence of the phrase “prince” and the idea of having nothing in Messiah in both Daniel 9: 26 and John 14: 30 suggest there must be a connection of this nature.
The fact that Judas was “one of the twelve” as he sat at the last supper is emphasized by all the Gospel writers - the phrase occurs in Matthew 26:14; Mark 14:20; Luke 22:47; John 13:21, thus later Peter reflected, “he was numbered with us (cp. “one of the twelve”), and had (once) obtained part of this ministry” (Acts 1:17), alluding back to Christ’s statement that “the prince of this world” had no part in Him. Similarly 1 John 2:19 probably alludes to Judas as a type of all who return to the world: “They went out from us, but they were not of us” (cp. “Judas, one of the twelve”). Judas is described as a devil (Jn. 6: 70), and his leaving the room may have connected in the Lord’s mind with “the prince of this world” being cast out. Those who “went out from us” in 1 John 2:19 were primarily those who left the Jewish ecclesias (to whom John was largely writing) to return to Judaism, and they were epitomized by Judas. 2 Peter 2:13 & 15 equates the Judaizers within the ecclesias with Balaam “who loved the wages of unrighteousness”. The only other time this latter phrase occurs is in Acts 1:18 concerning Judas.
“Cast out” in the OT usually refers to Israel being cast out of the land for their disobedience (cp. Lk. 19:45). This was what was to happen to the Jews. The Law itself was to be “cast out” (Gal. 4:30). The idea of being cast out recalls the casting out of Hagar and Ishmael. The Lord commented concerning the end of the Mosaic system, “The servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever” (Jn. 8: 35). The description of apostate Israel as being “cast out in the open field” with none to pity them except God must have some reference to Ishmael (Ez. 16: 5). Galatians 4: 29-30, specifically connects the Law with Hagar, and the source of this passage in Isaiah 54: 1-7 concerning the calling again of a forsaken young wife who had more children than the married wife has similarities with Hagar’s return to Abraham in Genesis 16. After Hagar’s final rejection in Genesis 21, she wandered through the Paran wilderness carrying Ishmael - as Israel was carried by God through the same wilderness. The miraculous provision of water for Israel in this place is a further similarity, as is Ishmael’s name, which means ‘God heard the cry’ - as He did of His people in Egypt. Thus Hagar and Ishmael represent apostate Israel, and both of them were “cast out”. Romans 9: 6-8 provides more confirmation: “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel...but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God”. Paul’s reminder that the seed was to be traced through Isaac, and that the apostate Israel of the first century were not the true Israel of God but the children of the flesh, leads us to identify them with Ishmael, the prototype child of the flesh. In the same way, Jeremiah describes wayward Israel as a wild ass (Jer. 2: 24), perhaps inviting comparison with Ishmael, the wild ass man (Gen.16:12).
“Thy father was a Syrian”
Consider all the times when God’s apostate people act or are recorded as acting in terms of their Arab cousins:
- The description of Israel as Aholibah in Ezekiel 23: 4 recalls Esau’s wife Aholibamah (Gen. 36: 2), again associating them with the rejected Arab peoples.
- There is a connection between Israel’s renegade king Saul and the Horite Zibeon, who should have been ‘cast out’ of the land too (cp. Gen. 36: 24 and 1 Sam. 9: 3).
- David was persecuted by the apostate within Israel, and he asks God to judge them through ‘visiting all the heathen’ (Ps. 59:5).
- “The princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army?” (Jud. 8:6). Yet this was the exact spirit of Israel’s suspicious cousins when they were on their way from Egypt to Canaan.
- “He is Canaan…he loveth to deceive” (Hos. 12:7 AVmg.) says it all. Israel acted as the Canaanites- because they let their ‘Jacob’ streak come on too strong.
- The prophecy of Hos. 2:23 about Gentiles is quoted in Rom. 9:24-26 about apostate Israel.
- “Egypt and Judah and Edom and the children of Ammon and Moab…all these nations are uncircumcised, and the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart” (Jer. 9:26) makes it clear right back then that circumcision was a matter of the heart more than the flesh; and that therefore there was no essential difference between a spiritually uncircumcised Israel and their apostate cousins.
- Some verses earlier, Jer. 9:4 had spoken to Israel as if they were Esau, being warned about the cunning of his brother Jacob: “Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother: for every brother will utterly supplant”. Again, in a clever way, both Jacob and Esau are shown to be in the wrong, and Jacob is therefore treated as Esau.
- Apostate Israel were to be made as Sodom (Is. 1:10; Dt. 29:23); but this was the very fate of Moab and Ammon (Zeph. 2:9). They share the same judgment because in essence they did the same thing.
- When the Jews proudly said “Abraham is our father!” (Jn. 8:39) they were showing the very same spirit as Ishmael- in persecuting Isaac / Jesus.
- Having spoken of the time when Israel’s iniquity would have an end, Ezekiel goes on to describe the sin and judgment of Ammon in just the same terms (Ez. 21:25,29); a sharpened sword was drawn against both nations (Ez. 21:10,28), which was not to return into its sheath (Ez. 21:5,30); both were to be judged in “the land of thy nativity” (Ez. 21:30 cp. 16:3).
- The Jews forbad or hindered the apostles from preaching to the Gentiles “to fill up their sins…for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thess. 2:16). This is quoting from the LXX of Gen. 15:16 about the Amorites.
If Scripture interprets Scripture, “the god of this world (aion)” in 2 Corinthians 4: 4 must be similar to “the prince of this world (kosmos)”. Note that both the Jewish age and kosmos ended in A.D. 70. In the context, Paul has been talking (2 Cor. 3) about how the glory shining from Moses’ face blinded the Israelites so that they could not see the real spirit of the law which pointed forward to Christ. Similarly, he argues in chapter 4, the Jews in the first century could not see “the light of the glorious (cp. the glory on Moses’ face) gospel of Christ” because they were still blinded by “the god of this world” - the ruler of the Jewish age, i.e. Moses. Thus again the “prince” or “God” of the “world” (age) was the Jewish system, manifested this time in Moses and his law. Notice how the Jews made their boast of the law…made their boast of God (Rom. 2:17,23)- to them, the Law of Moses had become the god of their world. Although the link is not made explicit, there seems no reason to doubt that “the prince of this world” and “satan” are connected. It is evident from Acts (9:23-25,29-30; 13: 50-51; 14: 5 & 19; 17: 5 & 13; 18: 12; 20: 3) that the Jews were the major satan or adversary to the early Christians, especially to Paul. Of course it has to be remembered that there is a difference between Moses’ personal character and the Law he administered; this contrast is constantly made in Hebrews. Similarly the Law was “Holy, just and good”, but resulted in sin due to man’s weakness - it was “weak through the flesh”, explaining why the idea of satan/sin is connected with the Law. Because of this it was a “ministry of condemnation”, and therefore a significant ‘adversary’ (satan) to man; “the motions of sins...were by the Law” (Rom. 7: 5).
There are a surprising number of references to the Jewish system, especially the Judaizers, as the devil or satan:
- Lk. 6:7 describes the scribes and Pharisees as looking for every opportunity to make false accusation against the Lord Jesus. They were indeed ‘the devil’- the false accuser.
- 1 Thessalonians 2: 14-16 relates how “the Jews...have persecuted us (Paul and his helpers)...forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles”. When he goes on to say in v. 18. “wherefore we would have come unto you ...once and again but satan hindered us”, the “satan” refers to Jewish oppositions to the Gospel and Paul’s planned visit to Gentile Thessalonica.
- “False apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ...satan himself is transformed into and Angel of light” (2 Cor.11:13-14) probably refers to the subtle Judaist infiltration of the ecclesias with ‘double-agents’ (see 2 Cor. 2:11; Gal. 2: 4-6; Jude v. 4).
- The false teachers “crept in” just as a serpent creeps (Jude 4).
- The same group may have been in Christ’s mind in His parable of the tares being sown in the field of the (Jewish) world by the devil, secretly (cp. “false brethren unawares brought in”).
This devil is defined as the sower’s enemy, who were the Jews. These tares were “things that offend” - and Paul warns of the Judaizers who caused offences and schisms to wreck the ecclesia (Rom.16:17; 14:13; Matt.13: 38, 39, 25, 41). This is all confirmed by Jesus in Matthew 15: 12-13 describing the Pharisees as plants “which My Heavenly Father hath not planted” which were to be rooted up at the judgment.
It was this devil that put the idea of betraying Jesus into Judas’ mind, so Luke 22: 2-3 implies: “chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him...then entered satan into Judas”. The Jewish ideas of an immediate Kingdom and the throwing off of the Roman yoke by a glamorous, heroic Messiah entered Judas, and caused him to become so bitter against Christ’s Messiahship that he betrayed Him.
The Jewish satan, as both the Jews and their ideology, was at work on the other disciples too: “Satan hath desired to have you” (plural), Jesus warned them. Especially was the High Priest seeking Peter: “I have prayed for thee (Peter - singular), that thy faith fail thee not” (Lk. 22: 31-32). Could Jesus foresee the satan - High Priest later arresting Peter and his subsequent trial in prison? Throughout the first century, the Jewish devil sought “whom he may devour” ( 1 Pet. 5: 8). It is possible that 1 John 2:14 has reference to the Jewish satan or “wicked one” trying to especially subvert young converts, both in years and spiritual maturity, later on in the first century, as it had tried to subvert the disciples during Christ’s ministry: “I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the “wicked one”. Note how the wicked one was overcome through the indwelling of the word. Psalm 119:11 and the example of Christ in the wilderness temptations shows that the word in us helps us overcome our evil heart, showing that this wicked one here refers to our evil desires as manifest through the Jewish system.
- The parable of the sower connects the devil with the fowls which take away the Word from potential converts, stopping their spiritual growth. This would aptly fit the Judaizers who were leading the young ecclesias away from the Word, and the Jews who “shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men...neither suffer ye them that are entering (young converts) to go in” (Matt. 23: 13); the devil takes away the word of the Kingdom, “lest they should believe and be saved” (Lk. 8:12). It is worth noting that John Thomas in Eureka (Vol. 3 p. 657 ) interprets the fowls of Revelation 19: 17 as the natural Jews.
- The Jews were “of your father the devil” (Jn. 8: 44), hence Christ’s description of Judas as a devil (Jn. 6: 70) because the Jewish devil had entered him and conceived, making him a devil also. If the Jews’ father was the devil, then ‘the devil’ was a fitting description of them too. They were a “generation of (gendered by) vipers”, alluding back to the serpent in Eden, which epitomized “the devil”; “that old serpent, called (i.e. being similar to) the devil and satan” (Rev. 12: 9). In the same way as Judas became a devil, the “false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-Jesus” is called a “child of the devil” (Acts 13: 6 & 10), which description makes him an epitome of the Jewish opposition to the Gospel. There are many other connections between the serpent and the Jews; clearest is Isaiah 1: 4 “A people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters”, which is describing Israel in the language of Genesis 3:15 concerning the serpent. Thus the Messianic Psalm 140: 3 & 10 describes Christ reflecting that his Jewish persecutors “have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders’ poison is under their lips...let burning coals fall upon them: let them be cast into the fire” (referring to the falling masonry of Jerusalem in A.D. 70?). It is quite possible that Christ’s encouragement to the seventy that “I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy” has a primary reference to their ability to overcome Jewish opposition during their preaching tour.
The Psalms which foretell Judas’ betrayal of Jesus talk of Judas in the singular, but also talk of his work as being done by a group of people - the Jews, in practice: “It was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together...let death seize them (plural), and let them go down quickly into hell” (cp. Judas’ end); Psalm 55:13-15. “Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of My bread (cp. Jesus passing the sop to Judas), hath lifted up his heel against me. But Thou, O Lord, be merciful unto me, and raise me up, that I may requite them” (Ps. 41: 9-10). Thus Judas is being associated with the Jews who wanted to kill Jesus, and therefore he, too, is called a devil, showing Jesus’ recognition of this association. Both Judas and the Jews were classic ‘devils’ due to their surrender to the flesh. This is further confirmed by a look as Psalm 69. Verse 22 is quoted in Romans 11: 9-10 concerning the Jews: “Let their table become a snare before them...let their eyes be darkened”. The passage continues in Psalm 69:25, “Let their habitation be desolate; let none dwell in their tents”. This is quoted under inspiration in Acts 1:16 & 20, as referring specifically to Judas, and the pronouns are changed accordingly: “This scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas...Let his (singular) habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take”.
- Psalm 109 is a prophecy of Christ’s betrayal and death (v. 8 = Acts 1:20). The satans (“adversaries”) of Jesus the Psalm speaks of (v. 4, 20, 29) were the Jews, and the specific ‘satan’ of v. 6 was Judas.
- Michael the Archangel’s disputing with the devil about the body of Moses could refer to the Angel that led Israel through the wilderness contending with a group of disaffected Jews (Jude v.9).
- “The synagogue of Satan” who were persecuting the ecclesias (Rev. 2: 9; 3: 9) speaks for itself.
- When Peter was explaining how Christ had opened a way for Gentiles to obtain salvation without the Law, he reminded them how Jesus had healed “all that were oppressed of the devil” (Acts 10: 38). ‘Oppressed’ meaning literally ‘held down by leaders’, is he hinting that the people Jesus helped had been hopelessly in bondage to the Jewish system? - “Him that had the power of death, that is the devil” (Heb. 2:14) may refer to the fact that “the sting (power) of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the (Jewish) Law” (1 Cor.15: 56; see also Rom. 4:15; 5:13;7: 8, where ‘the Law’ that gives power to sin is clearly the Jewish law). Bearing in mind that the ‘devil’ often refers to sin and the flesh, it seems significant that ‘the flesh’ and ‘sin’ are often associated with the Mosaic Law. The whole passage in Heb. 2:14 can be read with reference to the law being ‘taken out of the way’ by the death of Jesus [AV “destroy him that hath the power of death”]. The devil kept men in bondage, just as the Law did (Gal. 4:9; 5:1; Acts 15:10; Rom. 7:6-11). The Law was an ‘accuser’ (Rom. 2:19,20; 7:7) just as the devil is.
- One of the major themes of Galatians is the need to leave the Law. “Ye have been called unto liberty...for all the Law is fulfilled...this I say then (therefore), Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit...so that ye cannot do the things the ye would”. It was because of the Law being impossible to keep that is was impossible to obey it as one would like. “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the Law”. This seems to clinch the association between the Law and the flesh (Gal. 5:13-18). The same contrast between the Spirit and the Law/flesh is seen in Romans 8: 2-3: “The Law of the Spirit if life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the Law (of Moses/sin) could not do...”. The Law indirectly encouraged the “works of the flesh” listed in Galatians 5:19-21, shown in practice by the Jews becoming more morally degenerate than even the Canaanite nations, and calling forth Paul’s expose of how renegade Israel were in Romans 1.
Legalism in the ecclesia also results in a similar catalogue of weaknesses. It has often occurred to the present writer that there may be a correlation between legalism in ecclesias and the number of cases of serious misbehaviour. Galatians 5: 24-25 goes on in this context to imply that in the same way as Jesus crucified the Law (Col. 2:14) by His death on the cross, so the early church should crucify the Law and the passions it generated by its specific denial of so many fleshly desires: “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections (margin: passions) and lusts”. This seems to connect with Romans 7: 5 “When we were in the flesh (under the Law - Paul implies he is no longer ‘in the flesh’, which he was if ‘the flesh’ only refers to human nature), the motions (same word, ‘affections’ as in Gal.5: 24) of sins, which were by the Law, did work in our members”.
- Hebrews 2:14 states that the devil was destroyed by Christ’s death. The Greek for ‘destroy’ is translated ‘abolish’ in Ephesians 2:15 : “Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances”. This would equate the devil with the enmity, or fleshly mind (Rom. 8: 7) generated by the Mosaic Law; remember that Hebrews was written mainly to Jewish believers. The Law itself was perfect, in itself it was not the minister of sin, but the effect it had on man was to stimulate the ‘devil’ within man because of his disobedience. “The strength of sin is the Law” (1 Cor.15: 56). “Sin taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me (Rom. 7: 8 & 11). Hence “the wages of sin (stimulated by the Law) is death” (Rom. 6: 23). It is quite possible that the “sin” in Romans 6, which we should not keep serving, may have some reference to the Mosaic Law. It is probable that the Judaizers were a far bigger source of false teaching in the early church than straight Gnosticism, with its teaching that there was no harm in sin. It seems more likely that such Gnostic ideas were presented by the Judaizers in the form of saying that sin was not to be taken too seriously because the Law provided set formulae for getting round it.
- The Law produced an outward showing in the “flesh”, not least in the sign of circumcision (Rom. 2: 28).
- There is a frequent association of sin (the devil) and the Mosaic Law throughout Romans (this is not to say that the law is itself sinful- it lead to sin only due to human weakness). A clear example of this is found in Romans 6 talking about us dying to sin and living to righteousness, whilst Romans 7 speaks in the same language about the Law; thus “he that is dead is free from sin...ye (are) dead indeed unto sin” (Rom. 6: 7 & 11) cp. “Ye also are become dead to the Law” (Rom. 7: 4). Other relevant examples are:
Romans 6 (about sin)
Romans 7 (about the Law)
“Sin shall not have (anymore) dominion over you: for ye are not under the Law” (v. 14)
“The Law hath dominion over a man... as long as he liveth” (v. 1 )
“Dead indeed unto sin” (v. 11)
“She is loosed from the Law” (v. 2).
“Being then made free from sin” (v. 18)
“She is free from that Law” (v. 3)
“As those that are alive from the dead...ye have your fruit unto holiness” (vs. 13 & 22), having left sin.
“Ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (v. 4), having left the Law.
“Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin (as a result of sin having dominion over you), (vs 13-14).
“When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members...but now we are delivered from the law” (vs. 5-6).
“Therefore...we also should walk in newness of life” ( v.4).
“We should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter “ of the Law (v. 6).
The drive of Paul’s argument in its primary context was that having been baptized, they should leave the Law, as that was connected with the sin from which baptism saved them- it introduced them to salvation by pure grace in Jesus. The Hebrew writer had the connection in mind when he wrote of “carnal ordinances” (Heb. 9:10; 7:16). To be justified by the Law would be to be “made perfect by the flesh”, so close is the connection (Gal. 3:2,3).
He summarizes this argument in Colossians 2, where, in the context of baptism and warning believers not to return to the Law, he argues “If ye be dead with Christ (in baptism) from the rudiments of the (Jewish) world, why, as though living in the (Jewish) world, (i.e. under the Law) are ye subject to (Mosaic) ordinances...?” (v.20). The Law was “against us...contrary to us” (Col. 2:14) - hence it being called an adversary/satan.
- “For what the Law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin” (Rom. 8: 3) - cp. Galatians 4: 4-5, “Made of a woman, made under the Law (cp. “sinful flesh” ) to redeem them that were under the Law”.
- The natural Jews under the Mosaic Law, as opposed to the Abrahamic covenant regarding Christ, are called “the children of the flesh” (Rom. 9: 8). Similarly those under the Law are paralleled with the son of the bondwoman “born after the flesh” (Gal. 4:23).
- “Are ye now made perfect by the flesh?...received ye the Spirit by the works of the Law?” (Gal. 3: 3, 2) - as if “by the flesh” is equivalent to “by the law”.
- Hebrews 7:16 & 18 speak of “The Law of a carnal commandment...the weakness and unprofitableness thereof”. Not only is the word “carnal” used with distinctly fleshly overtones elsewhere, but the law being described as “weak” invites connection with phrases like “the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26: 41). Romans 8: 3 therefore describes the Law as “weak through the flesh”.
- “We (who have left the Law)...have no confidence in the flesh (i.e. the Law). Though I might also have confidence in the flesh...” (Phil. 3: 3-4), and then Paul goes on to list all the things which gave him high standing in the eyes of the Law and the Jewish system. These things he associates with “the flesh”.
- David’s victory over Goliath can be read as a type of Christ’s victory over sin on the cross - the stone permanently ‘bruising’ the brass coated man of sin in the head and David’s standing upon him in triumph are clearly connected with Genesis 3:15. Brass is a symbol of sin in Ez. 24:10-13. The other parallels are too lengthy to list now, except to say that David’s triumphant stripping of Goliath’s armour may well be alluded to in Colossians 2:15, where Christ’s victory over the Law on the cross is described as “having disarmed the powers...he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (N.I.V.). Thus sin, the seed of the serpent and the Law are seen to be connected to some degree, and were all conquered by Christ’s death on the cross.
Thus we have seen that the Jewish system and Law is associated with sin and flesh, and the devil/satan is a personification of sin. The devil and satan are again clearly linked to a Jewish/Mosaic Law context.
The Jewish system ceased to be a serious adversary or satan to the Christians in the aftermath of its destruction in A.D. 70, as Paul prophesied: “The God of peace shall bruise satan under your feet shortly” (Rom.16: 20). A closer study of the context reveals more precisely the mentality of the Judaizer satan. Satan being bruised underfoot alludes back to the seed of the serpent (especially relevant to the Jews - Jn. 8: 44) being bruised in Genesis 3:15. The Jews are therefore likened to the satan-serpent in Genesis, in their causing “divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned” (Rom. 16:17) cp. “hath God said...?”. Other details in Romans 16 now fall into the Genesis 3:15 context: “they that are such serve...their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (v. 18). The fair speeches of the Judaizers were like those of the serpent. Instead of ‘Why not eat the fruit?’ it was ‘Why not keep the law?’. Is. 24:6 had earlier made the point that because of the sin of the priesthood “therefore hath the curse devoured the earth / land”; “their poison is like the poison of a serpent” (Ps. 59:4).
The tree of knowledge thus comes to represent the Law - because “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). The fig leaves which Adam and Eve covered themselves with also represented the Law, seeing they were replaced by the slain lamb. Their initially glossy appearance typifies well the apparent covering of sin by the Law, which faded in time. The fig tree is a well known symbol of Israel. It seems reasonable to speculate that having eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they made their aprons out of its leaves, thus making the tree of knowledge a fig tree. Both the tree and the leaves thus represent the Law and Jewish system; it is therefore fitting if the leaves were from the same tree. It is also noteworthy that when Christ described the Pharisees as appearing beautiful outwardly, he used a word which in the Septuagint was used concerning the tree of knowledge, as if they were somehow connected with it (Matt. 23: 27).
It was as if the Judaizers were saying, ‘Yea, hath God said you cannot keep the law? Why then has He put it there? It will do you good, it will give you greater spiritual knowledge’. Colossians 2: 3-4, shows this kind of reasoning was going on: “In (Christ) are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words”.
Here is another allusion to the serpent. Because all spiritual knowledge is in Christ, Paul says, don’t be beguiled by offers of deeper knowledge. Thus Adam and Eve’s relationship with God in Eden which the serpent envied and broke is parallel to us being “in Christ” with all the spiritual knowledge that is there, hence Paul warned Corinth: “I fear, lest...as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11: 3). The simplicity in Christ was therefore the same as man’s relationship with God in Eden. So again we see the Judaizers equated with the satan-serpent of Genesis. Titus 1:10 and 2 Peter 2: 1 & 3, specifically define these men who used an abundance of words and sophistry as “they of the circumcision”. Those in 2 Peter 2 are described as speaking evil of Angels (v. 12 cp. Jude v. 8) - in the same way as the serpent spoke evil of the Angelic commands given in Eden.
Back in Romans 16, the Judaizer satan is spoken of as serving “their own belly” (V. 18) like the serpent did. Maybe the serpent liked the look of the fruit and wanted to justify his own eating of it; to do this he persuaded Eve to eat it. Because he served his belly, he had to crawl on it. Similarly the Judaizers wanted to be justified in their own keeping of the Law, and therefore persuaded Eve, the Christian bride of Christ (2 Cor.11:1-3), to do the same. “Yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple (margin: harmless) concerning evil” (Rom.16:19) - “be wise as serpents, (primarily referring to the Pharisees?) and harmless as doves”, Jesus had said (Matt.10:16). We need to understand the wisdom and subtilty of the Judaizers and the flesh, but the harmlessness of the spirit.
This association of the Jewish system with the serpent offers an answer to a perplexing question: We are told that it was by one man (Greek: human being) that sin entered the world; by “the offence of one judgment came…by one man’s disobedience [Gk. ‘inattention’] many were made sinners” (Rom. 5:12,18,19); but was it not by the serpent that sin entered? Seeing that Paul says “By one man sin entered into the world”, the answer must be ‘No’. Thus destroys the popular idea that the serpent was the agent of some sinful being or power; the serpent was not guilty of sin, it was by man that sin entered. The serpent was an animal, and therefore incapable of properly understanding God’s law. He spoke according to his natural, animal observations, but his reasoning was incapable of being influenced by God’s Word. There are some similarities here with the Jewish system which the serpent represented. They had closed their senses to God’s Word (Matt.13:15; Acts 28:27), and therefore they crucified our Lord through ignorance (Acts 3:17 cp. 1 Pet. 1:14, which is addressed to Jewish readers); yet they still had to be punished, as the serpent was; instead of being the head of the nations the Jews became the tail (Deut. 28: 44), in the same way as the serpent was once the greatest of the animals but was regulated to the least.
In passing, many details in Revelation 12 seem to refer to the Jewish system. The dragon is called “that old serpent, the devil”, both of which phrases have a distinct Jewish reference. The dragon was cast out - as “the prince of this world” and the Law were cast out by “the blood of the lamb” (Rev. 12:11). The Jewish devil and his angel-messengers of Matthew 13 and 2 Corinthians 11:14 must surely have some relation to “the devil...and his Angels” of Revelation 12: 9. thus Revelation 12 is probably one of several examples of the devil and satan referring to both Jewish and Roman systems.
In conclusion, the exhortation to cling to “the simplicity that is in Christ” surely comes to us in our generation as never before. Humble obedience to the Word is the only way of overcoming satan in all his manifestations. It is so tempting to aspire to what appears to be greater spiritual knowledge outside of the Word, but this can only be at the expense of leaving the simplicity of Christ. The extent of the Jewish opposition to the Gospel of Christ is clearly discernible throughout the New Testament, even if one has to ‘read between the lines’ to perceive it. Through both direct and indirect allusion(1), the Jews are set up as the great ‘satan’ or adversary to the Christian cause in the first century.
Let us strive by all means to keep innocence, “simplicity and Godly sincerity” (2 Cor. 1:12) of our first faith, so that we may be as wise as the serpent and having an even greater wisdom than satan with all his devices.
(1) For an indirect allusion consider how Paul speaks to his Judaizing Galatian converts as being the one who has become their enemy because he tells them the truth. He has in mind the way Jesus told His Jewish opposition: “Ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth” (Jn. 8:40).