A Theology of Serpents
When Lucifer made his decision to have war in heaven he managed to secure one third of the angels on his side. Revelation 12:4, 7 He fulfilled the concept of being the “…prophet that teacheth lies he is the tail.” Isaiah 9:15. Lucifer the light bearer became the Dragon, that old serpent, the Devil, and Satan. Revelation 12:9. Lucifer had become the father of lies and was cast out of heaven. John 8:44; Revelation 12:7-9
When Satan came to Earth he decided that he would attempt to deceive Adam and Eve our parents and God’s first human children. He was able to have contact with Eve and spoke to her through the medium of a serpent. Genesis 3:1-7. After Eve had impacted by the lies of the serpent she in turn became the medium for the serpent. What he did to Adam and Eve he has done to virtually every one of God’s children through time.
So many people had been bitten that it required the flood to reset the situation so that mankind could continue on Earth with any hope of hearing and responding to the gospel of Jesus. Out of the flood came the family lineage of Shem. This lineage came down through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The descendents of Jacob eventually became known as the children of Israel. During their early times God sent them to Egypt to preserve them as a nation. They stayed in Egypt and became a populous nation but ended up becoming slaves to Egypt. In the process of time God sent His prophet Moses to Israel to prepare them to be set free. In this story God did an unusual thing, He sent Moses with a series of signs to prepare Israel to be set free. One of the signs was that the rod that Moses carried could be thrown on the ground and this Serpent would help deliver Israel. The Serpent convinced Moses that he was doing the will of God, it convinced the elders of Israel as well. Exodus 4:1-5, 29-31. Then God instructed Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand to have Israel freed to worship Him in the wilderness. Pharaoh refused but wanted a sign to know that Moses was of God. God had instructed Moses of this and Moses had Aaron throw the rod to the ground and the rod turned into the Serpent. Pharaoh brought his magicians in to match the display of power revealed by God. When the magicians threw their rods to the ground God’s Serpent swallowed up the other serpents and revealed the power of God to deliver from the serpents of Satan. This display set the stage for the remainder of the plagues to deliver Israel from the control of Satan’s ruler on earth.
Shortly after the display of God’s Serpent, God delivered Israel from Egypt and took them to the wilderness to enter into covenant relationship with Israel. After two years of training God took Israel to the border of Canaan and Israel refused to enter into the Promised Land. Shortly after this refusal Satan tried to attack Moses, Aaron, God, and His people. He sent serpents into the camp. These serpents were doing the same job that the great serpent did in heaven. These serpents thought to tell lies to the people to remove their confidence from Moses. This story is told in Numbers 16 about the serpents Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and their 250 friends. All of these men told lies about God, Moses, and Aaron seeking to move the leadership from God to that of Korah and his master Satan. After a night to meditate, God instructed Moses to call all of Israel together to observe His power to handle serpents. Moses told the people to separate themselves from Korah and his friend. Moses said that they if they died the death that was normal to man then God had not sent him, but if they died a special death then it would be clear that they had not been sent by God but by the devil. At that moment the earth opened her mouth and swallowed these workers of Satan, these vipers and their venom. We will see this picture again when we get to Revelation 12.
The next serpent story in the Bible is in Numbers 21:1-9. Satan again has the Israelites complaining against God because they have accepted the Serpent’s lie that God does not want to help them or bless them but has cursed them with only manna, and has not given them flesh to eat as they had had in the land of Egypt. Because of this blatant rebellion against God, and their continued willingness to accept Satan’s lies against Jesus, God allowed His protecting hand to be removed from them and allowed the literal serpents in the area to literally bite the children of Israel. When the people saw, and experienced this, they repented and came to Moses and asked for help. This time God told Moses to make a brazen serpent and put it upon a pole. When this image to the Serpent had been lifted up on a pole then all who looked toward it in faith would be healed. Many died in this event because they would not look to something that they perceived could not be done because of their erroneous understanding of the law of God. They reasoned that the serpent was an image and that Israel should not make an image of anything according to the second commandment of God. But when God speaks He knows His law and He knows His grace. When He spoke through His servant Moses the people needed to obey. Those who looked by faith lived, and those who refused God, and His prophetic messenger died.
The next story in the Bible about serpents comes in II Kings 18:4. In this story good king Hezekiah is just coming on to the scene of action. He has been called by God to reign over God’s people and he wants to do a thorough job of preparing the people to surrender to God. To do this Hezekiah wants to remove all of the idols in the land so that there will be no mixed worship in the land. Hezekiah wants all of the worship if Judah to go to Jehovah and nothing else, so he cut down the groves dedicated to false gods, he removed the high places, he broke the images, and he even went so far as to cut in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made because people had actually began to pray to it and to burn incense to it. This shows that Satan can take even things that God has used to bless and deliver with and turn it into a curse against the worship of God.
After this story we will go to the prophet John the Baptist. When he was preparing the way for Jesus to come and become the Anointed of God, the Jewish leadership sent representatives to check out John. John said unto them “…O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee before the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham…” Matthew 3:7-9. John the Baptist, God’s prophet recognized that the Sadducees and Pharisees were teaching error to the people of God and if they wanted to be blessed by the Messiah they needed to repent, change their ways, bring forth fruit that would display that they were repentant, and live in harmony with the truths of God rather than the errors of Satan.
Later Jesus Himself picks up on this theme of the Pharisees and Sadducees being serpents and restates it. In Matthew 16:1-12 Jesus warns His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The disciples did not immediately grasp what it was that Jesus was saying. They literalized His statement and figured that Jesus was speaking of bread since he had used the word leaven and that they had forgotten to bring bread. When Jesus became aware of this misinterpretation He said unto them that He was not talking about bread but about the doctrine of doubt that the vipers (Matthew 23:33) were constantly trying to inject into the minds of the disciples and the people of Israel. This caution is for us today as well.
In John chapter 3, Jesus makes an interesting application of Scripture. As He is talking to Nicodemus about the gospel, and how one would become born again, Jesus refers Nicodemus to the ancient testimony of Moses lifting up a serpent on a pole. Jesus says that this story is a parable referring to Himself. Jesus claims to be the Serpent of God, the One who will take on the sins of the world, and be nailed to a pole, and then be lifted up for all man to see. Those who see Jesus on the pole will be tempted to simply see a sinner who needs to die. But those of faith will discern the spiritual truth of the event and recognize that Jesus remains pure, while taking the sins of mankind upon Himself, and that He will die in their place that all of those who see and believe may live forever. John 3:12-17
After Jesus’ death and resurrection He teaches His disciples a wonderful event. He tells them in Mark 16:14-18 that they are to go out and teach the doctrines of God – the truths of the gospel of Jesus. They are to teach these truths everywhere. They are to fulfill the principles of the signs given to Moses in Exodus 4:29-31 they are to cast out devils, they shall speak with new tongues, if they come into contact with any poisonous things, including serpents and serpent’s doctrines, they will not be hurt, and they will be able to come into contact with the sick and they shall recover them. This story is operationalized in Acts 16:16-21 and Acts 28:1-6. In the first story Paul casts out an evil spirit which was thought to come from the false serpent god of Python who was thought to give the gift of prophecy and divination of the signs and times. In the second story Paul is literally bitten by a literal poisonous snake. The natives of the island he was on thought that he was a criminal and the gods had sent this snake to impart justice. When Paul did not die from the bite then they changed their minds and thought that the gods had sent Paul to deliver them a message. God showed, in each case, His power to deliver from error, spirits, and actual poison to ensure that the gospel would go out to minister to His people in all cultures and situations.
In our final applications of the theology of serpents we need to go back to the book of Revelation 12. We are told in Revelation 12:13-17 that when the dragon, or Satan, saw that he was cast down at Calvary that he was angry at the church. He decided to persecute it through his agents on earth and he did everything he could do to destroy it. He persecuted the church for 1260 year in the wilderness. He also sent flood waters against the church. Waters are peoples, nations, kindreds, and tongues. Revelation 17:15; Isaiah 17:12-13; Psalms 124:1-5. These waters, sent out by the serpent, the Devil, came with the intent to deceive and destroy God’s people. But as in the story of Korah in Numbers 16, God allowed the earth to open its mouth and swallow the waters so that God’s people would not be overwhelmed with error. God delivered His people, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus – the Spirit of Prophecy (Revelation 19:10) to protect them from error.
In Revelation 16 we have a final presentation of serpent error. In Revelation 16:13-14 God presents to us the last tidal wave of error that comes from the mouth of the Dragon, or the Serpent, the beast of Revelation 13, and that of the False Prophet (remember Isaiah 9:15). All three of these entities are united in untruth and have the simple desire of deceiving all of the world through the errors, lies, and lying miracles that they present to the world. They want to draw the whole world into the final battle against God and His people. Praise God that when He comes to fight this last battle His primary weapon will be the Word of God represented by a two edged sword coming from His mouth. No serpent’s weapon of error and deception will God use but the powerful word of God. Revelation 19:11-15; Ephesians 6:17. Thus the final battle will be won by the truth as it is in God.
It is my prayer that as you study these thoughts that God will place His weapon of truth in your heart and in your hand. He wants to shield you from error and lies, and He wants you to go forth clad in His holy armor (Ephesians 6:10-17). He wants you to play your role in this last great battle. He knows that the sides are drawing up their lines, and gathering every last person to make their choice as to whose side will they be on. We must make that decision as soon as possible so that we can influence others before the final declaration of God is made - it is finished, He that is unjust, let him be unjust still, and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” Revelation 16:17; 22:10-11. What decision will you make?