Before I became a pastor, my wife and I owned a clothing business in Romania. On the way home one day, I noticed a big crowd. Curious, I walked over and saw a man claiming to be a prophet. He urged people to return to God, go back to church, and read their Bibles. He asked them to pray, care for the poor, and love one another. All good.
He then called the sick to come forward. A lady with chronic back pain came right away. He put his palm in front of her forehead, without touching her. He claimed to be casting out the demon of sickness. In that instant, she was thrown by an invisible force to the ground. When she got up, she exclaimed that the pain was gone. Then one person after another came. All were thrown violently to the ground, and all came up without pain.
Afterward, he told the crowd, “What matters most is your relationship with Jesus. It’s not about keeping the commandments. You will all be saved regardless. It’s not about anything you do; it’s about Jesus’ love for you.” I was young and inexperienced and decided to engage the man in conversation.
“So, you are saved by grace, not by works? But if you really love Jesus, you don’t go around stealing, killing, cheating, lying, and worshiping other gods.” Reflecting on Isaiah 8:20, I asked whether I could take his car or wife.1
He said, “You cannot do that; it is a sin.”
“And what is sin?” I asked. “Isn’t it the breaking of the law? Doesn’t Jesus say that we should beware of the false prophets and that we will know them by the way they live, by their fruits?” (Matt. 7:15, 16)
At this, he got angry, approached me, and put his hand in front of my forehead, expecting me to fall prostrate. I remained upright. He then said, “I have no power over you.”
I answered, “Because He who is in me is greater than he who is in you” (1 John 4:4).
He told me to leave. Those around him murmured in agreement. They wanted healing more than they wanted truth.
This experience has remained with me throughout my ministry. It clarified for me how, in the last days, there could be a deception of “even the elect.” It will be because “ ‘false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders’ ” (Matt. 24:24). It will be because people will choose what they see over what they know.
According to Daniel 12:1, in the last days, “ ‘there shall be a time of trouble such as never was.’ ” Jesus counseled us to pay particular attention to the prophet Daniel, for while there have always been periods of economic collapse, conflicts, wars, natural catastrophes, and religious apostasy, as we approach the end of time, these are predicted to intensify greatly. Jesus said, “ ‘For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be’ ” (Matt. 24:21). Satan is the instigator.
The Bible says, “ ‘by your sorcery all the nations were deceived’ ” (Rev. 18:23; emphasis added). The Greek word translated “sorcery”—pharmakeia—refers to “the use of medicine, drugs or spells.”2 Whatever medicates or confuses the mind—distortions in teaching, diversions in media, and distractions in entertainment—is used by Satan to deceive. “The last great delusion is soon to open before us. Antichrist is to perform marvelous works in our sight.”3 The greatest battle is not with armies and arsenals aiming their artillery at human bodies; it is with principalities and powers pointing their panoply at human minds.
In this warfare against deception, what is our defense? Scripture offers four indispensable strategies:
Be in Christ. “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10). Our own wisdom, experience, or education can do nothing in this spiritual battle. We are safe only when we are continually in the Lord. John Stott states, “The commonest description in the Scriptures of a follower of Jesus is that he or she is a person ‘in Christ.’ The expressions ‘in Christ,’ ‘in the Lord,” and ‘in him’ occur 164 times in the letters of Paul alone, and are indispensable to an understanding of the New Testament. To be ‘in Christ’ does not mean to be inside Christ, as tools are in a box or our clothes in a closet, but to be organically united to Christ, as a limb is in the body or a branch is in the tree. It is this personal relationship with Christ that is the distinctive mark of his authentic followers.”4
The greatest battle is not with armies and arsenals aiming their artillery at human bodies; it is with principalities and powers pointing their panoply at human minds.
Jesus said, “ ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ ” (John 15:5). Ellen White comments, “The only defense against evil is the indwelling of Christ in the heart. . . . Unless we become vitally connected with God, we can never resist.”5
Be in prayer. “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18). Biblical role models are people of prayer. Scripture says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:16). Prayer is vital in this battle because “at the sound of fervent prayer, Satan’s whole host trembles.”6 To guide us through this warfare, we need more than human help. “Go to God for yourselves; pray for divine enlightenment, that . . . you may distinguish between the genuine work of God and the imitative work or the powers of darkness.”7
Be in His Word. “And take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). Jesus used the Word as His strongest defense against the enemy. He responded to Satan with “It is written . . .” This remains our only safety against Satan and his deceptions and our help and support through daily trials. “So closely will the counterfeit resemble the true that it will be impossible to distinguish between them except by the Holy Scriptures.”8
Be in His armor. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Eph. 6:13). The Greek word used here, panoplia (English, panoply), means “a complete set of defensive and offensive armor (weapons), i.e. everything needed to wage successful warfare; (figuratively) the full resources the Lord gives to the believer so they can successfully wage spiritual warfare. In this way they do not fight for victory—but from His victory!”9
Revelation 13:13 states that at the end of time, Satan “performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.” Fire has various meanings in Scripture.
When Israel departed from God, Elijah was sent to urge the nation to return to the worship of Yahweh. Elijah prayed for fire (1 Kings 18). Fire reveals the true work of God. Fire can represent our zeal, dedication, and passion for God’s work. It can also represent revival. Counterfeit fire can signal Satan’s way of substituting a true revival with a false revival. Counterfeit fire gives the illusion of authenticity to augment the delusion of deception.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is symbolized by fire (see Matt. 3:11; Acts 2:3). When believers become filled with God’s Spirit, they stand on fire for God—passionate to have His presence and willing to do His work. Satan will try to counterfeit this experience.
Scripture admonishes, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7b). If we are to resist the deceptions of the soon-coming final crisis, we must focus on God, on His Word, on prayer, and we must be covered by His armor. We should not imitate the foolish virgins, postponing preparation until the coming of the crisis. The quality of our daily walk with God now will determine the level of our victory then. “Those who make Christ their daily companion and familiar friend will feel the powers of an unseen world around them; and by looking unto Jesus they will become assimilated to His image. By beholding they become changed to the divine pattern.”10
In these last days, it will be difficult to discern between the false and the true. Paul declared, “For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14b, 15a). We cannot trust human explanations or human beings. Paul stated his fear that “when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27b). This informs us that even the ones God used to lead us to Christ may become suspect. Our hope does not rest in a preacher, teacher, or prophet. Our only hope lies in a “thus saith the Lord.”
On March 4, 1977, there was a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Romania. Thousands were killed. Living on the top floor of a five-story building, my dad had located a small area where he believed my mom, sisters, and I would be protected. Buildings were collapsing all around us. People were running desperately down the stairs. Screaming and crying could be heard everywhere, but through the noise, I could hear my father. He was singing, “Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.” Our next-door neighbor with her entire family knocked on the door asking to come in. When my father asked why they didn’t run out like the others, she answered, “I did my homework ahead of time. I know the options for my family and me. This is the safest place to be.”
Joshua said, “ ‘And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD’ ” (Josh. 24:15). Joshua had done his homework. He knew the options for his family and himself. He chose the safest place to be.
THE SOLDIER’S ARMOR (Eph. 6:10-18)
The belt and strips (of truth) keep the soldier’s back straight and protect the intimate parts of the body. Truth and integrity protect God’s soldiers against immoral things.
The breastplate (of righteousness) protects the heart, lungs, and bowels. The heart symbolizes love. What do we love and value the most (Matt. 6:21)? Bowels in the Bible symbolize emotions, which need to be under God’s control and protection. Lungs symbolize prayer. “Prayer is the breath of the soul.”11 We must keep breathing. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
The shoes (of the gospel of peace) help our daily Christian walk, our actions, and the direction of our life with God’s guidance.
The shield (of faith) represents spiritual protection. Attacks may come from temptation, hardship, or other types of satanic attack.
The helmet (of salvation) represents mental protection. Our mind is the origin of everything, whether good or bad. Faith or doubt, humility or pride, victory or defeat, all begin in the mind.
The sword (of the Word of God) is our defense and offense. “It is written…” (see Matt. 4:4-11).
- “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20, NKJV). The NKJV is used throughout this article.
- “5331. pharmakeia,” Strong’s Concordance, Bible Hub, biblehub.com/greek/5331.htm.
- Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1950), 593. See also page 464 of The Great Controversy; Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 2 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), 96; and Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 302.
- John W. Stott, “ ‘In Christ.’ The Meaning and Implications of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Knowing and Doing, Summer 2007, cslewisinstitute.org/In_Christ_page1.
- Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 324. See also Ellen G. White, In Heavenly Places (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1992), 50.
- Ellen G. White, Counsels for the Church (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1991), 319.
- Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 3 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1980), 389. See also Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1956), 93; Ellen G. White, Messages to Young People (Nashville, TN: Southern Pub. Assn., 1930), 249; and Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), 609.
- White, Great Controversy, 593. See also Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1943), 626, and Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 3 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn, 1980), 411.
- “3833. panoplia,” HELPS Word-studies, biblehub.com/greek/3833.htm.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 616. See also Ellen G. White, Medical Ministry (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1932), 252.
- White, Messages to Young People, 249.