Coiled around a high branch in the center of the Garden, the snake studies the man and his wife closely, their heat signature held in the narrow slits of his black eyes. He is absolutely still but for a forked tongue that slips in and out of his mouth, each pass delivering to him the scent of his unsuspecting prey. His prey are this man and his wife, but he hungers specifically for their holiness, for in their holiness is the likeness of God.
This snake is unlike any other creature in the Garden because this snake is no animal at all, but the enemy himself in the form of his true essence. His essence is revealed because this is the Garden of Eden––a zone wherein physical reality perfectly articulates the spiritual nature of every being. In this place, he has no choice but to manifest as a venomous, cold-blooded cobra.
From what heights he has fallen! The enemy was once ordained to be a guardian of heaven, the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. He was adorned with precious stones on the day he was created. He was blameless in his ways until “wickedness was found in him.” His heart became proud on account of his beauty. Self-indulgence corrupted his wisdom. Intoxicated with pride, the mantra of his heart so became:
“I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
He recognizes that the created world is the sole avenue by which he can achieve his aims. But God has given the dominion of the world to man (Genesis 1:26). The snake cannot seize it; he can merely receive it if man gives himself over to the enemy’s will. The snake is betting that man is gullible enough to do so. As he beholds this man and his wife on their first full day of existence––they are giggling and splashing in a shallow riverbed––more and more he likes his odds.
As the Sabbath Day goes on, he watches from a distance and takes notes. He sees that the man and his wife are invited to eat freely from any tree they choose, and there are miles upon miles of fruitful trees from which to eat. The variety of options exemplify the diversity of choice within God’s blessing. So long as they eat from the buffet that God has prepared for them, they will feast forever in true freedom, exercising their free-will every day without end.
There is one prohibition: ha’etz ha’da’at tov v’ra––the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This tree is expressly off-limits. God warned Adam in no uncertain terms: “...you must not eat from the Tree of Knowledge, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The tree itself (though off-limits) is still a good tree. After all, it was seeded on Day 3 of creation, and at the end of Day 3, God looked at everything He had made and called it good. The forbidden tree contributes a special dynamic to the Garden. It is like the surprising radical that makes the whole free-will equation work. Without this variable, humanity is a bride locked inside her husband’s castle. Without this variable she cannot leave, and if she is not allowed to leave, the framework of genuine love and relationship cannot exist. It’s the having the freedom to leave––coupled with the bride’s choosing to stay––that expresses commitment on her part, and the mutual trust of both parties. As it’s been said: to have the freedom to say yes, one must have the freedom to say no.
But to say no to the source of life is problematic. To say no to God––that is, to violate His commandment––is to stray from Life. It is to sin and to accept the slavery associated with the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). Thus, the freedom to eat from the Tree of Knowledge is the freedom to trade away freedom. It’s the end of freedom, as it were. So God prohibits the tree because he wants the very best for the man and his wife. He forbids it so as to protect their freedom, and yet He includes it as part of their freedom.
What’s even more, God plants the Tree of Knowledge boldly in the center of the Garden! He doesn’t set it in the far corner; He doesn’t hide it behind some boulder. It’s not the hard-to-find shrub of Knowledge of Good and Evil. No, it’s the distinguished Tree of Knowledge standing counter to the Tree of Life, with all other trees placed on their periphery. It’s God’s declaring to man: if you want to leave, you have the right to do so. If you choose to venture beyond My presets, by all means have it your way. I’m not afraid to leave the door unlocked. You are my Beloved, and your partnership with Me with this ministry is a choice that you must make for yourself every single day.
The Tree of Knowledge represents opportunity to the serpent. Whereas God views it as man’s way out, the enemy views it as his own way in. So the snake stations himself among its branches. He trains his eyes on the man and his wife from his vantage point atop the tree. As he watches them, he beholds the image and likeness of God, a sight which makes him envious, yes, but hungry as well. He knows, though, that now is not the right time to strike. He will wait until Shabbat ends.
Currently there is no sin and death in the world. Man, who holds the key to the world, has not opened the door to such darkness, so sin and death have not crossed the threshold. Sin and death do exist, though. For within the enemy––this creature from heaven––already there is sin; already there is separation from God; already there is the authorship of evil. So long as these stay contained within the enemy, their effects will never do any harm to man. Sin and death will remain like a venom unreleased, a toxic agent never activated in the world.
To be clear: the enemy’s fate is already bound to sin and death. No longer is he the seal of perfection; no longer is he blameless in heavenly splendor. Now he manifests as a serpent because that form best articulates his fallen essence. Sin and death being in him, he will use what he has and make the most of it. He will weaponize death to his advantage, and he will utilize his mouth to pass the toxin.
The serpent has but one original idea: the idea that words can differ from intention. The idea that the outside doesn’t have to match the inside. His intention being what it is––to feed on man’s holiness, to consume God’s image and likeness, to best God and His Beloved in their collective endeavor, to assume dominion over the world, to ascend to the heavens and be like the Most High––he will use his words to convey a different message. He will sell a different premise: he’s here for man’s sake. He’s speaking up in their interest. Being so considerate, he will reveal what God has been keeping from them. That is, that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge offers not death but freedom! It’s the pathway to enlightenment, knowing good and evil. It’s the chance to be like God, and they are created to be like God, right?
The snake slithers downward at nightfall. His arms and legs (source) help his long body weave between the branches. His tongue goes in and out, its fork foreboding a split which his tongue will soon inspire. He settles into a strategic position upon the tree’s lowest branch. He will wait here until morning. He is excited. He does not know what the future holds but with such certainty he thinks, This is going to be too easy...
The galaxies fade as morning dawns in the Garden of Eden. A mist goes up from the ground to water the vegetation. The man and his wife awaken to a cacophony of sound cascading from the lush greenery encircling them. What’s for breakfast? Some fruit from the Tree of Life. When they bite into it, they feel a surge of energy, a pulse of eternity, entering them. Having been created in the image of God, they were made to be immortal, and via the Tree of Life, they connect to the everlasting. Without death, without sin, they are naked but they feel no shame.
They are eager to begin their ministry in the Garden. They are eager to go and walk through the Garden in every direction, knowing that wherever they set their feet, that land will be theirs. But just as the two of them get going, a whisper from the mist catches their attention.
The serpent speaks. He targets the woman because, if his calculations are correct, she is the glory of man (as 1 Corinthians 1:13 will confirm). If he can ruin her––the final crescendo of God’s creation––then the man who is enamored with her will follow suit. Besides that, the enemy has a sweet tooth, and there is something especially delectable about her holiness.
The serpent’s first words to her––his first recorded words in history––are off-key.
“Aph kiy-amar elohim lotokh’lu miKol etz ha’gan?” That is, “Has God indeed said you shall not eat of every tree of the Garden?
“Aph kiy...” he begins, the words that launch the serpent’s attack. These Hebrew words are phonetically identical to “off-key” in English. It’s a linguistic coincidence but nevertheless instructive because everything the enemy says is a measure off-key.
To elaborate, when an instrument––a piano, for instance––is played by itself, it may sound perfectly in tune when actually it is off-key. This is because the instrument is tuned to itself, meaning each string inside the piano is tuned relative to the other strings inside the same piano. Therefore our ear is betrayed into thinking it is properly tuned. The truth will be heard, though, when that piano is played alongside an orchestra performing at concert pitch. Concert pitch is the standard pitch to which all musical instruments are tuned for a performance. It is the universal frequency at which all instruments are supposed to play. As other instruments tuned to concert pitch begin to play, that piano––which once sounded so lovely––will sound painfully out of place with the orchestra.
And so it is with the serpent’s words. If heard in isolation, they may sound in tune with truth. But when brought before the absolute truth of God’s Word, the disharmony is abruptly obvious.
Deviating from this standard, the serpent’s opening statement makes it way to the woman. It has its appeal; it pulls her in. And after hearing her first response, the enemy knows he’s already got her.
The woman says, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
Eve misquotes God. This is not what God had said. Prior to Eve’s creation, God had said to Adam, “...of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The commandment mentions nothing about touching the tree. So where does Eve get this extra information from?
She got it from Adam when Adam passed it down to her! This bit about making no contact with the tree was Adam’s addition to God’s Word. Adam, with good intentions, had “built a fence around the Torah” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:1) so as to guard the law from being trespassed. But the addition––when not understood properly––confuses tradition with commandment. To violate a tradition of man is not to sin; to violate a commandment of God is to sin! But when a tradition of man is held equal to a commandment of God, the lines blur, and in that confusion the enemy finds a foothold. The serpent now knows that all he has to do is get her to touch the fruit, and in that “sinful” moment, she will find that nothing bad happens. She will then come to doubt the commandment altogether, and she will take a bite.
The serpent smiles inwardly. “You will not certainly die,” he replies. His reptile body tightens around the bottom branch that props him up. “For God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
You’re missing out is the thrust of his temptation, the unspoken hook of his sales pitch. And having made his final statement, he stops selling. He knows that, at this point, whoever speaks first loses. Any experienced salesman knows to keep quiet after delivering the close. So he holds his tongue, stays confident, and watches the woman’s eyes as curiosity calls them upward. Halfway up, the tree fades away into the mist, giving it the appearance of reaching into the heavens. It’s perfect; the product sells itself! The snake lets the product take the lead and do the talking.
Everything he told her is factual. Upon eating the fruit, her eyes will indeed be opened to knowing good and evil. And, as he said, she will not die! At least in a certain sense, because she will go on living for hundreds of years after the fruit is consumed. It goes to show that the words of the salesman serpent are factually accurate, in and of themselves. This is a telling insight. It is why his pitch is so often convincing. He laces his lies with facts. But, as is commonly the case, facts can be misleading and off-key. Facts can be untruthful.
In truth, the forbidden fruit will veer Eve away from Life. The process of death will begin this very day. Her eyes will in fact be opened to knowing good and evil, but in truth she will go blind to the spiritual realm, to the very light which emanates from her body. Her entire perception of the world will itself become off-key to the heavenly reality she has heretofore known in the Garden. Reality will bifurcate. A split will occur between reality as God intended it versus reality as she experiences it. In truth, her eyes will be more shut than opened, and she will surely die. But, of course, hindsight is 20/20. Gazing up at the tree right now, she isn’t considering the downside anymore.
The woman ascertains that the fruit of the tree is “good for food.” And it’s more than edible but delicious––“pleasing to the eye.” And it’s more than enticing but edifying––“desirable to make one wise.” She looks over at her husband who is with her––he’s been listening the whole time––and he says nothing. He makes no protest. He offers no counter-argument. Here occurs the man’s failure: a relinquishing of delegated authority, a failing to speak truth to deception. The man’s failure will give way to mankind’s first sin.
Her attention returns to the tree. Reaching upward, she clutches a piece of fruit and tears it from the branch. Ah ha! The serpent here has his victory moment. It is akin to a customer taking up the pen to sign the order. It’s over. It’s done. Someone pop the Champagne! Cradling the fruit in her hand, she sees that nothing happens. She thinks she’s already transgressed the commandment, yet she observes no change, no consequence. She now doubts the commandment altogether. Without any reluctance, she pulls it in and takes a bite.
She is greeted with a momentary euphoria, sin’s pay-off, a temporary high. But she doesn’t have time to describe it, for within a moment, the Garden adheres to the truth of the matter. Her light goes out. The incandescence of her being powers down, level after level, a nauseating free fall, a generator gassing out. Startled, she turns and squints into the light of her husband as he stares back at her in disbelief. Though she is right beside him, suddenly they are worlds apart.
Crossing the chasm from her world to his, she holds out the fruit and offers it to him. The sin is plated with increasing appeal: from a tree’s indiscriminate branch to a wife’s open palm. It is harder to resist...
But “Adam is not deceived. . .” (1 Timothy 2:14).
The man is not deceived because the truth has been revealed. The man knows exactly what will happen if he eats the fruit, for he just saw Eve undergo a wilting transformation. He is now faced with a difficult decision: he either refuses the fruit (which separates him from his wife) or he accepts the fruit because it’s not a paradise if she is absent from it.
The man takes and eats the fruit, and crash lands on the other side.
With his joining her, the eyes of both of them are now opened. First comes shame as they scrutinize one another, their connection diminished, their light extinguished, their flesh in full view. But shame is pushed aside by fear when they turn and behold the enemy for the first time. With new awareness, they perceive an evil so tangible and sinister that they flee from it (like Moses will in Exodus 4:3). They don’t stop running until they are deep in the jungle of Eden. Little do they realize, evil and its inclination goes with them.
As for the serpent himself, he doesn’t even begin to chase them. He is far too full for that! Having consumed their holiness as his main dish, their fear as his dessert, he is bloated and swollen beyond previous size. So much to digest! For now, he meanders back up the Tree of Knowledge, its top well above the fog line. Once there he takes in the view, a glutton king surveying his newly-acquired territory while the sun is quietly coming up behind him.
* * *
The man arises from the water of the Jordan. The Spirit of God descends like Noah’s final dove and lands, finally, upon him. The people nearby are astonished when a voice from above bellows, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The man upon whom the Spirit now rests is Jesus. He is the Son of God, the last Adam (Luke 3:38, 1 Corinthians 15:45). He is about to begin his ministry on earth. But before he begins, he knows what he has to do.
Venturing out like a trapper, Jesus disappears into the wilderness, alone. He makes himself the bait. He lets himself become very weak, fasting for 40 consecutive days. He senses the serpent watching him from a distance, monitoring his strength as it dwindles week after week. 20 days go by. 30 days go by. By Day 40, Jesus is very near the limit of human capacity, 35 pounds lighter than when he began (source). Having gone 40 days without food, Jesus can hardly stand up. He slips in and out of consciousness. The line between what is and what isn’t blurs. The enemy sees an edge and deems the time is right. In full strength the snake emerges from hiding and strikes.
Having been loosed from the Garden, the enemy has gained a new power, an ability to manipulate his appearance, the way in which he is perceived. When the outside doesn’t reflect the inside––when something isn’t what it seems––it makes a mockery of God’s design. By manipulating his appearance, the enemy mocks God’s design and defies nature’s order. He therefore does it constantly, oftentimes prowling around like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). Nevertheless, his essence does not change even if his masks frequently do. Once a serpent, still a serpent.
The enemy likes to mock what is holy and good. So, out here in the wilderness, the tempter approaches Jesus not as a snake but as someone Jesus already knows and trusts: a rabbi from his youth, a friend of Joseph’s, an old man with bushy eyebrows and a warm smile. When Jesus notices the rabbi approaching, he isn’t sure if he is seeing another memory come to life or if, perhaps, the enemy has finally arrived.
The old, familiar rabbi sits down across from Jesus. With Jesus being so drawn and emaciated, a look of concern comes over the rabbi’s face. He speaks up for Jesus’ sake. He says, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus look! These stones are good for food. It’s a fact that, if you’re the Son of God, you can turn these rocks into bread! So why are you doing this to yourself, my son?
Tuning his thoughts to concert pitch, Jesus responds with a verse from Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 8:3): “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”
The rabbi looks away, disgusted. Did he not wait not long enough? Still, he knows what Jesus wants even more than food. Jesus wants his people to recognize the truth. Knowing this, and seeing Jesus in his current state, the enemy remains seated. The advantage is not lost. Not a word is said for a long while, the two of them in total quiet except for an ever-present howl of wind ripping between the arid mountains. Jesus, slumped against a large stone, eventually lays his head back. He struggles to stay coherent and awake, but his mind is adrift. His eyelids are heavy. His focus is in and out. The rabbi’s bushy eyebrows are the last thing he sees before everything fades to black.
His eyes shoot open. Abruptly alert, Jesus finds himself in the middle of Jerusalem! He is perched high above a crowd of hundreds of people. He is peering down at them from the pinnacle of the Temple. It is from this position that the priest would regularly watch and wait for dawn, eager to give the signal that would commence the Temple services, the morning sacrifice set to occur exactly at sunrise. This position at the pinnacle of the Temple is a place of anticipation, a place of new beginnings. Jesus knows this intuitively as he beholds the setting that surrounds him.
Now there is standing beside him a man dressed in the holy garments of a Levitical priest. The priest stretches his hand out as if to invite Jesus to step forward. He says, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”
If, in fact, you are the Son of God, show your people! Show them who you are in terms they would understand! They are expecting a Messiah, after all. Malachi 3:1 foretells of His coming here, and here you are! At a station of anticipation and new beginnings. Step forth and be carried down by angels; be proclaimed Messiah! It’s perfect; it’s poetic; it’s pleasing. Jesus, it’s what you want. Don’t miss this opportunity. Shortcuts still get you to the destination.
The enemy quotes Scripture to bolster the temptation. The passage he references is from Psalm 91, a well known Messianic psalm. Verses 11, 12, & 14 read this way:
For [the Lord] will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
The referenced passage is missing a verse, though. No attention is paid to verse 13. Why is verse 13 neglected? Because Psalm 91:13 reads, “You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.”
The priest’s redaction is not missed by Jesus. Calling up Deuteronomy 6:16 as a response, Jesus turns to the enemy and, looking him right in the eyes, says, “It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God on trial.’”
The priest draws his shoulder back, his hand poised to slap Jesus across the face. It comes in quickly and Jesus winces, bracing for impact. Instead, the man’s hand swipes the whole scene into oblivion. Jesus is hit not by a hand but by a blast of cold wind that ices his sun-burned face.
He has been transported to the summit of a colossal mountain, its flanks so steep and rigid that a man could not climb them. He shares the summit with someone else, the sight of whom would bring an lesser man to his knees. In front of Jesus, buttressed by mighty wings on the right and the left, adorned with precious stones of every color, towers a magnificent archangel whose splendor and radiance transcend that which the earth can produce. This goliath angel, tall and striking, holds a pose that accentuates his most stunning and wonderful features. When he looks down his nose at Jesus, he does so with surprise, for the man seems unimpressed.
The angel directs Jesus’ attention to the edge of the mountaintop. Jesus accepts the direction and together they walk to the edge. It is here that Jesus’ breath is taken away, for beyond the dizzying drop-off––far, far below––is a scene so captivating that it is difficult to describe.
Draped over the landscape is history distilled into a single moment. All the kingdoms of earth are represented. Stretching as far as the eye can see, they light up the sky. Each kingdom portrayed in its highest grandeur: Greece at its greatest; Rome in its prime; Persia at its best; China in its fullness; Britain at its zenith; the United States with its towering skyscrapers; first century Israel with His beloved Jerusalem. It’s all there: past, present, and future.
Cast in the glow of this glorious summation of world history, the angel lets Jesus take it in. The angel pretends to look too, but he has quite frankly grown accustomed to this view. Besides, the kingdom he covets is not included in this panorama. The kingdom he covets remains safeguarded within the thin frame of the man standing next to him. This kingdom the angel eyes secretly.
He pivots toward Jesus, but Jesus continues to survey the landscape with thoughts on the billions and billions of people below. The angel sees city light reflecting against Jesus’ eyes. He is reminded of the way the light reflected in Eve’s eyes when she beheld the beauty of the Tree of Knowledge. The enemy smiles and speaks just above a whisper. “All these things I will give You,” he says, adding, “if You fall down and worship me.”
This is a legitimate temptation. Jesus knows that the kingdoms of the earth are the enemy’s to give. The enemy has the authority to offer them. He acquired such power when man handed it over to him. The exchange occurred in the Garden...
God gave man dominion over all living creatures, and He commanded man to subdue the earth––to govern it (Genesis 1:28). Man’s authority was thereby established, his ruling over the earth and over all living creatures. But, when man ate the forbidden fruit, he succumbed to the will of the enemy. What occurred, then, was a trade off: the enemy gave what he had to man (the feeling of being like God) and man gave what he had to the enemy (control of the whole world). So came the dominion which the enemy––the “prince of this world” (John 14:30)––now presents to Jesus, legitimately.
The enemy wants to make another trade. The enemy will give Jesus control of the whole world if Jesus will submit and worship him in return. If Jesus bows down and worships him, the enemy effectively becomes the Most High, and thereby achieves his greatest desire and satisfies the mantra of his heart! The enemy is trading up: from feeling like God to being God! It’s an astounding progression if he can pull it off. But of course, the enemy holds his cards close to his chest. He doesn’t show his desperation.
“All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me,” the angel says to Jesus. Underneath his calm demeanor, the enemy screams: “Jesus, no one will notice! It’s just you and me out here! I’m offering you the deal of a thousand lifetimes! The course of the world––up for sale! You can have it; you can rule it as you see fit! It’s yours, if you’ll simply do the smallest action in this private place. Your whole body is aching to lay down anyway. Come on, isn’t my offer desirable?”
No terrorism. No holocaust. No inquisition. No crucifixion. Jesus shuts his eyes and the world’s brilliance ceases to reach to his pupils. When his eyelids pull back, his eyes are illuminated from the inside, by the light of God’s Word. Jesus turns to the angel and answers with a verse from Deuteronomy (8:3). “It is written,” he says, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”
The angel’s countenance falls through his feet and tumbles down the mountainside. He knows there’s nowhere left to go; he’s heightened the temptations as high as he can take them. And still, despite the odds, Jesus––this man of God––has prevailed.
There is a sudden whirl and Jesus lowers his head to avoid being disoriented. When he raises it up, he finds himself slumped against a rock on the desert floor. The sun is going down; the stars are coming out. Across from him is a man with the eyes of a serpent. The man is staring back at Jesus, motionless and crouching down. His expression is solemn and intense. No words are spoken. Jesus coughs once, twice, and the man is gone.
Jesus, now left to the birds and the wild animals, is in a dangerous situation. His weakened body is all but paralyzed; his mind is unsteady and spent. He is starving and bordering death. If God doesn’t rescue him somehow, he will die right here in this vast and unforgiving wilderness. He is not demanding an angelic dispatch, nor expecting it, but their appearance at his remote location is more than welcomed. They come and attend to him (Matthew 4:11), pulling him back from the brink of death.
With the enemy’s departure, the showdown between the best of man and the worst of heaven would seem to be over. But the curtains have not yet closed. A cryptic verse from Luke 4:13 states, “...when the devil had finished every temptation, he left Jesus until an opportune time.” This opportune time will not arrive until later, when Jesus (again delirious, again very near death) hangs on the cross. The enemy, then speaking through those in the crowd, calls out, “If you are the Son of God, come down from that cross!” (Matthew 27:40).
Recollect the temptations: “If you are the Son of God...” “If you are the Son of God...” and now: “If you are the Son of God, come down from that cross!” This is the fourth great temptation, the opportune time that the snake has been waiting for. But this time, Jesus’ response is quite different than before.
In the wilderness, Jesus relied on the Torah to do battle. There are five books in the Torah he could have chosen from, but a single book––Deuteronomy––was enough to put down the enemy.
In another great showdown, David went against Goliath at the end of 40 days. David “chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine . . . David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground” (1 Samuel 17:40, 49).
David relied on these stones to do battle with Goliath. There were five stones in his bag he could have chosen from, but a single stone was enough to put down the enemy.
But there again, the showdown wasn’t over yet. After dropping him with a single stone, David stood over Goliath and drew Goliath’s sword out of its sheath. Using Goliath’s own weapon against him, David cut off Goliath’s head.
In like manner, Jesus now responds. Hanging on the cross, he looks down at the enemy. Before this, he had struck down the enemy with a single book, but now Jesus will use something else to finalize his victory. Death is drawn up into his hands. Using the enemy’s own weapon against him, Jesus dies on the cross––and with that death, he crushes the serpent’s head.
* * *
Snakes are indeterminate growers. This means they never stop growing (source). And so it goes that, after thousands and thousands of years, the ancient serpent tears into the storyline at the end of time not as a snake but as a formidable reptile-dragon (Revelation 20:1-2).
The dragon has been thrown down from Heaven by angels empowered by the blood of the Lamb and by the testimony of the saints (12:11). Upon hearing the testimony of his missionaries, Jesus had said, “I saw Satan fall from Heaven like lightning...” (Luke 10:18). It is known that lightning is seen before the thunderclap is heard. A principle: there is a moment’s delay between cause and effect. And so, as his missionaries go out into the world––healing wounds and casting out demons, pronouncing the kingdom of God––Jesus witnesses the silent lightning-flash. But it’s only after a measurable delay that the world experiences the rumble of the thunder rolling across the sky. The enemy was crushed at the cross, yes, but now, at the end of time, the crashing reverberation of this reality has finally reached everyone’s senses!
In one last-ditch power grab, the enemy assembles kings from the east, west, north and south. Joining as one army in numbers like the sand on the seashore, they march across the breadth of the earth, closing in like a noose on God’s beloved city, Jerusalem. But Jesus, now seated at the right hand of God, is in a very different place than he was when he was alone and staving in the wilderness. Speaking as the king of kings and lord of lords, He gives the order.
Fire comes down from heaven. It devours the enemy’s entire army (Revelation 20:9). Just as fire descended from heaven to lick up the water around Elijah’s sacrifice, fire descends to consume the most impressive army the world has ever seen (20:9). The enemy is then seized and led like a criminal to the lake of fire. Now the lake of fire is not separation from God, but rather an uncensored experience of God and His holiness. Even death and hell will succumb to the experience (Revelation 20:14)!
This is the dragon’s final moment. That ancient serpent––this one who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, this one who turned the world into a desert and destroyed its cities, this one who refused to let the captives return to their homes––is unapologetic and angry, without any last words to leave with his victims. Just before he is cast into the fiery lake, he glances back at Jesus upon the Throne. The two of them lock eyes one more time. Without speaking, Jesus passes a message to the serpent that goes something like: “I know you sought to feed on man’s holiness, so here, try Mine.”
And with that, the enemy is never seen again.