Why the World is Wicked ...and how Jesus declared war with it.

down

It is widely believed that the primary reason for the evil in the world is the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, as depicted in Genesis 3. While this is the dominant belief among most Christians today, this wasn’t the case for the ancient Hebrews, the New Testament writers, Jesus, the disciples, or the early Church. The change in thinking primarily occurred in the 4th century AD with Augustine1, but prior to that, there were believed to be three main reasons for why the world was so wicked, and Adam’s fall was by far the least of them.

To appreciate how insignificant Adam’s fall was for the Hebrew writers compared to the other two reasons, consider that there isn’t a single citation of Genesis 3 or Adam’s fall in the entire Old Testament. Adam is simply never mentioned again (aside from in a genealogy). Instead, the other two reasons are found all over the pages of the entire Old and New Testaments. But, unfortunately, we’ve been trained not to be able to see them.

The other two reasons why the world is wicked are easily found in terms of scholarly literature. It just never filters down to the pew. The scholarship surrounding this topic never makes its way inside the walls of the church. Why? The first reason is the tradition of focus on the individual but the second reason is much more sinister.

What follows is a brief overview of the two primary reasons why the world is wicked, according to the authors of the Scriptures–and how Jesus saves us from it.

Threefold Evil

Genesis 3 describes the fall of human beings by choosing sin, but it doesn’t explain why evil multiplied and proliferated throughout the earth; that is found in Genesis 6. It also doesn’t explain how that evil was able to be systematized and established as culturally normal; that is found in Genesis 11. The fall in the Garden of Eden wasn’t enough to allow evil to overtake the world. Humans, made in the image of God, had to be further deceived and influenced to create establishments of evil.

How did evil multiply throughout the earth? After the story of Adam and Eve and their children, the Bible fast forwards around 1,600 years to the time of the Great Flood. There in Genesis 6, we are told why the flood took place; because the “Sons of God,” supernatural beings, mated with human women and gave birth to a new race of people: the Nephilim (Genesis 6:1-8). This passage is perhaps the most obscure and strange passage in the whole Bible, but it wasn’t strange at all to the ancient Hebrews, as we will soon see.

How did evil become systematized and consolidated? After the flood narrative, before we start to learn about Abraham, we are told how all of Noah’s descendants came together in an attempt to form a false Eden (Genesis 11:4). They used the new technology of brick-making to construct a tower to reach the heavens in an attempt to unify around their own imperial name, Babylon, instead of God’s. This event was the beginning of a multitude of nations, each with their own god, all of which rebelled against Yahweh. The story of the Tower of Babel and the gods of the nations is obscure to us, but not the ancient Hebrews, as we will soon see.

Genesis 6

In the Garden of Eden, there was no rebellion against God’s will until a character called “the Serpent” came and tempted Adam and Eve. God then said to the Serpent that it and Eve’s offspring would be at odds: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers” (Genesis 3:13-15). Eve’s offspring is humanity. The Serpent’s offspring is a little more abstract but still clear from other parts of Scripture; basically, anyone who opposes God’s will (John 5:44, 6:70; 1 John 3:8-10). Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, “who belonged to the evil one,” would be the first of the Serpent’s offspring when he violently murdered his brother (1 John 3:12). After that, the evil of violence started to multiply, but it wouldn’t be widespread until the generations before the Flood.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.”
Genesis 6:11, 13

The chief sin that caused the flood was violence. But this corruption wasn’t spread by humanity alone; it was spread by supernatural beings who decided to rebel against God. Those supernatural beings are called the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6, “When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the Sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.” (Genesis 6:1-2). The offspring of this unholy union were called the Nephilim, unnatural giant beings who would continue to plague the earth for thousands of years (Genesis 6:4). The Nephilim show up later in the Biblical narrative as well, along with their giant offspring, the Anakim and Rephaim (Numbers 13:32-33, Deuteronomy 2:10-11 ESV, 2 Samuel 21:18-22). Thus, a composite picture from both extra-Biblical Jewish writings and the New Testament shows us that demons are the departed spirits of dead Nephilim killed before, during, and after the flood.

The story surrounding Genesis 6 is fascinating, complex, and of utmost importance when it comes to an understanding the story of the Bible. While the topic is well attested in a multitude of scholarly works, it is most notably made accessible to the lay student by Old Testament scholar Dr. Michael S. Heiser. Regarding Genesis 6, he says, “The sons of God were trying to reformulate Eden, where the divine and the human coexisted, in their own way. They presumed to know better than God what should be happening on earth, just like the original enemy had. Alteration of God’s plan to restore his rule ends up making a bad situation worse.”2 The actions of the Sons of God started the world into a downward spiral.

Wait, What? Huh?

You may be wondering, why have I never heard of this before? One reason is likely that our 21st century context is so radically different from that of the ancient Hebrews or the early Church. We have a hard time seeing certain aspects of the supernatural world. But also, after Genesis 6, the Bible doesn’t say much else about what happened with the Sons of God and the Nephilim. Modern Christians blame Adam and Eve for the wickedness in the world, yet if you asked a Jew living during the time of Jesus or before, the understanding was dramatically different. The Sons of God were to blame for the proliferation of evil on earth. We know this from an abundance of extra-Biblical writings from the Second Temple period but also from the New Testament itself.

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Jude 5-7

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly…
2 Peter 2:4-6

Scholars agree that both of these passages are about the same subject matter.3 They both describe the Genesis 6 event when ‘angels’ (or Sons of God) sinned.4 That sin was sexual in nature, put in the same category as Sodom and Gomorrah, and involved breaking the boundaries of their “proper dwelling” (the spirit realm). But you likely noticed that both the authors of 2 Peter and Jude write about the punishment that the Sons of God suffered for their sin, being “kept in chains in gloomy darkness” awaiting judgment. Where did they get that information from?

The answer is that other writings, written in between the Old and New Testaments, were well known, taken seriously, respected, and informed the worldview of Jews at the time, including Peter and Jude. The most famous of these writings is ‘1 Enoch‘, which expands upon the brief mention of the Sons of God and the Nephilim from Genesis 6.5 In addition to Enoch, the Book of Jubilees (7:21-25) also states that ridding the Earth of the Nephilim was one of God’s purposes for flooding the Earth.6 For the sake of space, we’ll be looking at 1 Enoch, where we can most notably find the backstory to the primary source of evil in the world.

1 Enoch and the Watchers

Most Christians today would consider the book of 1 Enoch to be uninspired, meaning that it wasn’t dictated, written, or viewed as Scripture by God. Whether this was true for Jews and Christians during the time of the Second Temple is debatable, but in either case, it was considered a serious source of information for them. There are over 50 references and allusions to 1 Enoch in the New Testament7, most notibly in 2 Peter and Jude as we’ve already seen. This means that the early Church, including many writers of the New Testment (Paul included), viewed 1 Enoch as an authority. A handful of important early Christian writers such as Tertullian, Irenaeus, Origen, and Clement either advocated 1 Enoch as worthy of canonical status or considered it authoritative on certain matters of truth and doctrine. Many of them even cite 1 Enoch using phrases like “for Scripture says” and “for it is written.”8 The supernatural reading of Genesis 6, and its details that 1 Enoch fleshes out, was not an issue until the late fourth century AD, when it fell out of favor with some influential church fathers, especially Augustine. But Second Temple Judaism gave the story and its repercussions a prominent, almost central, role in understanding God’s activity in history. In the end, 1 Enoch was only assigned full canonical recognition by the Ethiopian Church, but the assumption that ‘uninspired’ ancient books aren’t valuable for understanding Scripture is deeply flawed.

Let’s take a look at a few portions of 1 Enoch to see where Peter and Jude received those extra details and understanding:

When the sons of men had multiplied, in those days, beautiful and comely daughters were born to them. And the Watchers, the sons of heaven, saw them and desired them. And they said to one another, “Come, let us choose for ourselves wives from the daughters of men, and let us beget for ourselves children.” And Shemihazah, their chief, said to them, “I fear that you will not want to do this deed, and I alone shall be guilty of a great sin.” And they all answered him and said, “Let us all swear an oath, and let us all bind one another with a curse, that none of us turn back from this counsel until we fulfill it and do this deed.” Then they all swore together and bound one another with a curse. And they were, all of them, two hundred, who descended in the days of Jared onto the peak of Mount Hermon. And they called the mountain “Hermon” because they swore and bound one another with a curse on it… And they took wives unto themselves, and everyone (respectively) chose one woman for himself, and they began to go unto them, and they began to teach them sorcery and charms, and to reveal to them the cutting of roots and plants. The Watchers taught men to make swords of iron and weapons and shields and breastplates and every instrument of war.

Then Michael, Surafel, and Gabriel observed carefully from the sky and they saw much blood being shed upon the earth, and all the oppression being wrought upon the earth… As for the women, they gave birth to giants to the degree that the whole earth was filled with blood and oppression. And now behold, the Holy One will cry, and those who have died will bring their suit up to the gate of heaven. Their groaning has ascended (into heaven), but they could not get out from before the face of the oppression that is being wrought on earth… And to Gabriel the Lord said, ‘Proceed against the bastards and the reprobates and against the children of adultery; and destroy the children of adultery and expel the children of the Watchers from among the people. And send them against one another (so that) they may be destroyed in the fight, for length of days have they not…’

And when they and all their children have battled with each other, and when they have seen the destruction of their beloved ones, bind them for 70 generations underneath the rocks of the ground until the day of their judgment and of their consummation, until the eternal judgment is concluded… But now the giants who are born from the (union of) the spirits and the flesh shall be called evil spirits upon the earth, because their dwelling shall be upon the earth and inside the earth. Evil spirits have come out of their bodies. Because from the day that they were created from the holy ones they became the Watchers; their first origin is the spiritual foundation. They will become evil upon the earth and shall be called evil spirits.
1 Enoch 6:1-2; 7:1-2; 8:1; 9:1, 9-10; 10:9; 15:8-99

A few details should stand out. First, the punishment that the Sons of God (Watchers) suffered for their sin is explained, showing us where Peter and Jude got that information. Second, we learn that the Sons of God shared knowledge with humans, including witchcraft and weapons for war. This helps us understand why violence was named as the main sin that humans partook in before the flood (Genesis 6:11, 13). Third, when the giants (Nephilim) died, their spirits still roamed the earth. These spirits are understood to be the origin of demons.10 Forth, when the Sons of God left the heavens, they descended and landed on Mount Hermon. This location is significant for Jesus later in the New Testament.

We’ll return to all this soon, but we need to look at the Tower of Babylon before we do.

Tower of Babylon

The Tower of Babylon (more commonly known as ‘Tower of Babel’) story is another event that modern Christians largely gloss over but one that had a significant impact on ancient Hebrew and early Christian theology. The event is so vitally important to understand because it is the largest reason why evil persists systematically in the world today.

The story is very brief, occurring directly after the Flood. As Noah’s family settled after leaving the ark, they migrated west and settled in the land of Shinar (Genesis 11:1-2). Wanting to “make a name for themselves,” they set out to build a great city with a fortress11 (Genesis 11:4). The author is intentionally contrasting this with Abram, and the ‘name’ God promises him (Genesis 12:1-3). Noah’s family also uses the “advanced technology” of brickmaking; knowledge likely passed on by the Watchers (Genesis 11:3). Seeing the potential for great evil, Yahweh and his divine council12 descends from heaven and scatters Noah’s family, confusing their language (Genesis 11:7). While in many English translations, verse 9 calls the city ‘Babel,’ the Hebrew word is translated as ‘Babylon’ in the other 275+ times it appears in the Old Testament. It is noteworthy that Nimrod (meaning “to rebel” in Hebrew), Noah’s great-grandson, was the first king of Babylon (Genesis 10:8-10). He is described as a “mighty warrior” (Hebrew: gib·bôr), which is the same word used to describe the Nephilim offspring of the Sons of God and human women in Genesis 6. These are all significant details, as all throughout the Bible, Babylon becomes symbolic of human and spiritual opposition to God and the antithesis of his nation: the Kingdom of God.

The brief story of Babylon in Genesis 11 serves as a sort of ‘flashback’ to the genealogies of Noah’s children supplied in Genesis 10, explaining how all the 70 different nations and their languages came to be (Genesis 10:5, 20, 31). However, here is where it gets interesting. After Yahweh scatters Noah’s family and they form nations, God assigns lordship over the nations to the members of his divine council, the sons of God, but sets aside the Hebrews as his own nation.

gods of the Nations

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.
Deuteronomy 32:8-9 ESV

Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, Yahweh’s divine council are called his ‘counsel’ (Jeremiah 23:18, Psalm 82:1 ESV, Job 15:7, Job 15:8 ESV), the ‘sons of God’ (Psalm 29:1 ESV, Psalm 89:5-7 ESV13; Job 1:6 ESV, Job 38:7 ESV), and sometimes even ‘gods’ (Psalm 82:1 ESV). These gods over all other nations besides Yahweh’s rebelled against him in a parallel fashion. Deuteronomy 32 invites us to link together with the story of the city of Babylon as a joint human and spiritual rebellion (Isaiah 24:21-23). As Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies scholar, Dr. Tim Mackie, puts it, “Humans wanted to build their own pseudo-Eden mountain where they’d have access to eternal life, and now we learn that there were some sons of God involved as well, who, according to Deuteronomy 4, are now being worshiped by the nations.”14 (Deuteronomy 4:19-20 ESV).

The Flood didn’t spell the end of the giant Nephilim and their offspring. Even Genesis 6 verse 4 says, “Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward.” Their offspring, called the Anakites (Anakim) and Rephaim, were giant warriors and kings that held a prominent role in the Biblical stories of Israel’s national enemies (Deuteronomy 2:10-11, 3:10-11, 9:1-2; Joshua 11:21-22; 1 Samuel 17:4). The term ‘Raphaim’ is also used to describe the spirits of dead warrior kings, though the word is obscured in most English translations (Isaiah 14:9, 26:13-14; Psalm 88:4-5, 10). The Watchers (sons of God) introduced war-making and weapon-making to humans before the flood. Their offspring, the giant Nephilim (and their offspring the giant warriors, Raphiam), perpetuated the use of violence and war after the flood. This obsession with violence, war, and death would find its systematic establishment in the form of spiritually animated human government.

As we looked at earlier, the dead Nephilim spirits were the origin of demons, but this term is also given to the fallen sons of God (or gods) that were given dominion over all the nations. While the term ‘demon’ appears many times in the New Testament, it only does twice in the Old, both times in reference to the gods worshiped by the nations (Deuteronomy 32:16-17 ESV, Psalm 106:37-38 ESV). The City of Babylon story and the composite picture we get through various Old Testament passages of the divine rebellion combine to show us how the human and spirit realm rebelled against God’s lordship in Genesis 11. Besides Yahweh’s, the ‘god’ over every nation is either a rebellious ‘son of God’ formerly from the divine council or a dead spirit of the Nephilim; both called demons. The Old Testament is very clear that these lesser gods rule all nations besides God’s (Exodus 12:12, 15:1, 11; Psalm 86:8, 96:4, 97:9; 1 Kings 11:1-2, 5, 7-8).

Before Yahweh all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.
Isaiah 40:17

Yahweh’s Portion

All nations were given over to the lesser gods as their inheritance, but Yahweh selected one to be his own (Deuteronomy 32:8-9 ESV). So God delivered the Hebrews out of Egypt after defeating their gods (Exodus 12:12, Amos 2:10). As the author of Deuteronomy says, “Yahweh took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are.” (Deuteronomy 4:20). And as the psalmist said, “Blessed is the nation whose God is Yahweh, the people he chose for his inheritance.” (Psalm 33:12).“Yahweh’s portion was his people” (Deuteronomy 32:9 LEB).

God’s people weren’t to be like all the other nations who were ruled by violent gods; instead, they were supposed to be a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6). They weren’t supposed to have a king like all the other nations who were ruled by violent gods; instead, Yahweh alone was to be their king. This was the hope, at least. After around 400 years of having no king, God’s people rejected him, saying, “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:19-20). They wanted to be like all the other nations with their demonic gods and their demonic ways. Yahweh replied to them, “they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods” (1 Samuel 8:7-8). Rejecting Yahweh as their king meant rejecting him as their god.

Yahweh had always planned to send them a king, the only king worthy of ruling others, but his people were impatient. Instead, they wanted a king like all the other demonic nations. Yahweh warned them what a king would bring: he would conscript their boys to be fodder in his wars (1 Samuel 8:11), he would make others work fields for him and make weapons of death (1 Samuel 8:12), he would take a portion of everything they owned and distribute it amongst his wealthy friends (1 Samuel 8:15-16), he would ultimately make slaves out of all his people (1 Samuel 8:17). God’s warnings went unheeded, and their desire for a king would be their downfall. All of their human kings would succumb to the demonic wickedness that Yahweh warned about. By going against God’s will, they only lasted 165 years under human kingship before being fractured and then overtaken by pagan nations. God’s people wouldn’t be a sovereign nation for another 600 years until the true King arrived.

The Grand Reversal

Fast forward thousands of years later to the first century, and the only true king, Jesus, is starting his ministry. By this point, there is a one-world government in the spiritual realm with Satan as the god over all the other gods and demons (1 John 5:19; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:1-2; John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). All nations worship Satan, their god, as he holds all authority over them, and they belong to him (Matthew 4:8-10, Luke 4:5-7). The demons under Satan’s command are the true enemies, not flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). This is why Jesus’ ministry was one of complete nonviolence against people. But while he didn’t confront people with physical violence, he did confront them spiritually. Speaking of Jesus’ final showdown in Jerusalem, Mackie says, “The satan is Jesus’ primary enemy in the Gospels. From the Hebrew Scriptures Jesus knows that all humanity has given its allegiance to various forms of Babylonian idolatry, exalting human-made empires, economies, and gods to divine status. This rebellion is both individual and corporate, human and spiritual, which is why he viewed his confrontation with the leaders of Jerusalem as a battle against the power of darkness.”15 (Luke 22:52-53 ESV). Jesus also started his ministry in the same way that he concluded it (Colossians 2:15); fighting against the gods/demons that rule the nations.16

Jesus started his ministry with the Gospel announcement of the arrival of his nation (the Kingdom of God), by calling his first disciples, and healing a demon-possessed man (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:16-28; Luke 4:31-5:11). This is the first time in the entire Bible where we read about a demon being cast out of a person. The gauntlet had been laid down. The defeat of the powers that rule the nations was finally happening, and Jesus links it to the arrival of his nation as he explicitly says, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20 ESV). Thus, the ministry of Jesus marked the beginning of repossessing the nations and defeat of their gods.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.
Matthew 4:23-24

This list of ills combines demonic oppression with what most would consider normal medical or mental sicknesses. Mackie says, “In the biblical imagination, anything the degrades the human person—sickness, death, mental instability, bodily malfunction—are all attributed to spiritual forces of death and the grave.”17 The source of all evils in the world was understood to be a result of the Watchers, but their days were numbered. Jesus was sent specifically to proclaim the good news of his nation, his kingship, and to overthrow the evil powers that rule all the other nations (Luke 4:43, Colossians 2:14-15, Ephesians 1:22-23, 1 Peter 3:22). Only one person could undo what the Watchers had done: Jesus, and he was taking the fight directly to them.

On This Rock

The first time that Jesus confirmed that he was the Messiah was in the familiar account where Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” and Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then declared, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:13-18). While this incident is famous because of the Catholic belief regarding Peter being the first Pope, it is very important for a completely different reason. This statement was made at Caesarea Philippi, a city located in the northern part of what had been called Bashan, at the foot of Mount Hermon. This was where Jesus officially declared war on the demonic realm.

Heiser highlights the significance, “according to 1 Enoch, Mount Hermon was the place at which the Watchers descended to bind themselves with an oath to corrupt humanity. As such, for Jews of Jesus’ day (and the era of the early church), Mount Hermon became emblematic of the transgression of the Watchers and the awful deleterious effect that had on humankind.”18 The ‘rock’ that Jesus was referring to was Mount Hermon, the birthplace of spiritual rebellion. Caesarea Philippi at the foot of Mount Hermon was a place of great evil, the apostate King Jereboam built an idolatrous worship center there (1 Kings 12:31), and the city started worshiping Ba’al (Joshua 11:17, Judges 3:3). In Old Testament times, this was known as the domain of Ba’al, from which the New Testament names ‘Beelzebul’ and ‘Beelzebub’ derive, the Hebrew equivalent to Satan.19 At the time, the city was also called Panias because it was dedicated to the worship of the Greek fertility god Pan. At the base of the mountain was a cave that led underground, which was called “the gates of Hades.” “Jesus goes to ground zero in biblical demonic geography to announce that Bashan will be defeated. It is the gates of hell that are under assault—and they will not hold up against the church. Hell has no claim on those who align themselves with Jesus.”20

Directly after declaring war on the demonic realm, in the familiar ‘Transfiguration’ story, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up onto Mount Hermon to reveal the fullness of who he is—the embodied nature and glory of God.21 The meaning is clear: Jesus was putting the evil powers and principalities on notice; Jesus had come to earth to take back what was his. The pagan nations ruled by the offspring of the Nephilim were now doomed to destruction. The Kingdom of God had arrived.

When Jesus chose to go to Mount Hermon to be transfigured, He was claiming it for the Kingdom of God. As the Gospel chronologies tell us, these events provoked His death, the linchpin event for reversing the human predicament and ensuring the defeat of the powers of darkness.
Michael S. Heiser22

We Are Legion

When Jesus left the Jewish territories and entered the country of the Gerasenes—a Gentile territory in old Bashan—he faces a demon-possessed man (Mark 5:1-2). When he saw Jesus, he shouted, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Mark 5:7). When Jesus asks the man what his name is, he replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (Mark 5:9). 2,000 disembodied Watcher spirits (demons) possessed this man (Mark 5:10-13). A few details about this account stand out.

When Legion asks Jesus, “What do you want with me?” the question echoes an earlier account when Jesus casts out demons from another man in the Jewish territory of Galilee—but there is a subtle difference. The demons in Galilee ask, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” (Mark 1:24), while Legion in old Bashan asks, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Mark 5:7). This title, “Son of the Most High God,” reflects the Old Testament theology of cosmic geography we learn about in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 when “the Most High” disinherited the nations of the world, assigned them to the dominion of supernatural sons of God who became corrupt, throwing the world into chaos (Psalm 82:1-5 ESV). These demons, located in old Bashan, recognize that Jesus is the rightful Lord of this region and that they are about to lose their dominion.

The name ‘legion’ is a reference to the Roman legions, large battalions of military soldiers—the instruments of death used by the empire of Rome. The fact that this group of 2,000 demons used this term is no coincidence. Militaries are the primary way that empires, all of which are run and controlled by Satan and his demons, are able to deal out suffering, destruction, and death on a massive scale. Mackie agrees, “At every step, Jesus is fully aware that the Jewish soldiers, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and the Roman soldiers are captive to powers of cosmic evil that drive their behavior.”23 Because demonic power animates the very system of human government, Jesus fights to drive them out, reclaiming the nations for God’s Kingdom.

These familiar episodes in the ministry of Jesus occur in the darkest, most spiritually sinister places known to Old Testament Israelites and Jewish readers of the Old Testament. Bashan and Hermon were ground zero for spiritual evil and, in particular, the Watchers of 1 Enoch. The spiritual corruption of humanity would be healed by the atonement of the cross. His resurrection meant that no member of the Kingdom of God would share living space with the Watchers in the underworld Abyss, the realm of the dead. Even an army of Watchers was overmatched by the Son of the Most High. They would be lords of nothing.
Michael S. Heiser24

Baptism is Rejecting the Nations

Satan is the “prince of demons”25 (Matthew 9:34, 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15), he is the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31 ESV, John 14:30 ESV, John 16:11ESV), and he is the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV). Heiser states, “This New Testament profile of Satan has much in common with Second Temple Judaism, in which Satan, or the devil, is leader of all the other evil spirits. His scope of authority is the whole world (i.e., the nations). This perception would effectively assign to Satan ruling authority over the gods allotted to the nations at the Babel event (Deuteronomy 32:8; Deuteronomy 4:19-20; 17:1-3; 29:23-26).”26 If Christians don’t understand that Satan and his demons have had authority, control, and power over all the nations since the time of Genesis 11, how can they possibly understand what Jesus came to accomplish? How can someone who doesn’t know what they need to be saved from—the nations of the world—ever possibly be saved?

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
1 John 3:8

The act of Baptism, while being one of the most familiar practices in the Church today, was once strongly associated with the cosmic struggle between followers of Jesus and the spiritual and physical forces of darkness. This is why baptismal formulas in the Early Church included a renunciation of Satan and his angels.27 They understood what Peter did when he wrote that Jesus “went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago (the Watchers) when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” (1 Peter 3:19-22). The reference to the spirits being imprisoned is decisive. Any literate Second Temple period Jewish reader of this passage would have understood that Peter was referring to fallen nonhuman spirits, the Watchers who sinned before the Flood (Genesis 6:2).28

Baptism is a public declaration of allegiance to the true King. Heiser elaborates, “Baptism “saves” if one makes a decision: a pledge of loyalty to the risen Savior. In effect, baptism in New Testament theology is a loyalty oath, a public avowal of who is on the Lord’s side in the cosmic war between good and evil. But in addition to that, it is also a visceral reminder to the defeated fallen sons of God, Enoch’s Watchers. Therefore, every baptism is a reiteration of the past and future doom of the Watchers in the wake of the gospel and the kingdom of God. Early Christians understood the typology of this passage and its link back to 1 Enoch and Genesis 6. This is why early baptismal formulas included a renunciation of Satan and his angels. Baptism was anything but routine. It was a symbol of spiritual warfare.”29 Baptism was (and is) an exodus out of the pagan nation where you were physically born and into God’s Kingdom, Christ’s nation.

Undoing the Watchers

Jesus has inaugurated his nation and invites everyone to renounce former citizenships to pagan nations controlled by Satan and his demons and to be “born again” into a new citizenship in his Kingdom. Without citizenship in God’s Kingdom, we are doomed to the same fate as the Watchers, the “angels” who plotted rebellion on Mount Hermon.

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’
Matthew 25:40-41

Nowhere else in the entire Bible, Old or New Testaments, is there any mention of an “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” This idea and theology that Jesus states comes from 1 Enoch, regarding the transgression of the Watchers: “Then they will be led away into the gaping abyss of fire and into the torment and into the jail, being shut up from eternity.”30 The worldview of Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and writers of the New Testament was deeply informed by 1 Enoch and the story of the Watchers and the disinheritance of the nations to rebellious demonic spirits. For them, these were the primary reasons why the world was wicked and in need of saving. It is why Satan’s final temptation for Jesus in the wilderness was to gain back authority over all the nations when he said, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:5-7). The terms and conditions for having any governmental authority are to worship Satan. But Jesus knew there was another way. Jesus knew that his nation would supplant all of Satan’s. Satan’s nations weren’t worth ruling because they are all doomed to destruction.

In effect, Satan was offering Jesus rule over the nations abandoned by Yahweh at Babel (Deuteronomy 32:8). That judgment was never intended to be permanent. When Yahweh raised up his own “portion” (Deuteronomy 32:9) starting with the covenant with Abraham, he told the patriarch that it would be through his offspring that all the nations would ultimately be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Jesus was the specific fulfillment of that promise.
Michael S. Heiser31

Jesus is the savior not just of the individual, but the savior of the whole planet that has been enslaved by the fallen demonic spirits (Hebrews 2:14-15, 1 John 2:2). Jesus came specifically to destroy the works of Satan—and empires like America are Satan’s most effective works (1 John 3:8). Therefore, abandoning all love, patriotism, and allegiance for pagan nations must be a part of one’s discipleship to Jesus. Participating in Christ’s warfare, power, and mission involves revolting (nonviolently) against every single nation but the Kingdom. Salvation is leaving Satan’s empires and entering the Kingdom of God. All those who are citizens of Christ’s nation are no longer under the curse of death. Satan’s kingdoms, like America, no longer have any hold on them. Kingdoms of the world are the realm of the dead, and Satan has a rightful claim over their citizen’s lives—but Jesus offers salvation—salvation out of America, China, Iran, or any other pagan nation doomed to destruction. The one and only true ruler; the one and only true King has arrived. You have to understand what you’re being saved from in order to truly be saved.

There came one like a Son of Man… and to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed… it will crush all other kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

Jesus came proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Daniel 7:13-14, 2:44; Matthew 4:23; Mark 1:15


Go Deeper

Footnotes

  1. Annette Yoshiko Reed, Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
  2. Heiser, Michael S.. Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World And Why It Matters (p. 41). Lexham Press.
  3. See, for example, Peter H. Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006) 3; Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries 18; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987) 68; Jerome H. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Yale Bible 37C; New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008) 120– 22.
  4. The word choice of ‘angels’ comes from the Greek Septuagint, which is the Old Testament used predominantly by New Testament writers.
  5. Scholars have devoted considerable attention to parallels between 1 Enoch and the epistles of Peter and Jude. See George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch 1–36, 81–108 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001) 83–87.
  6. There are also allusions to these descendants in the deuterocanonical books of Judith (16:6), Sirach (16:7), Baruch (3:26-28), and Wisdom of Solomon (14:6), and in the non-deuterocanonical 3 Maccabees (2:4).
  7. 1 Enoch 1:2, 1 Peter 1:12 / 1 Enoch 1:9, Jude 14-15 / 1 Enoch 5:4, Jude 16 / 1 Enoch 5:7, Matthew 5:5 / 1 Enoch 9:4, Revelation 15:3, 17:14 / 1 Enoch 9:5, Hebrews 4:13 / 1 Enoch 9:10, 1 Peter 3:19 / 1 Enoch 10:4-5, 2 Peter 2:4 / 1 Enoch 10:6, Jude 6, Revelation 19:20 / 1 Enoch 10:11-14, 2 Peter 2:4 / 1 Enoch 10:11-15, 1 Peter 3:19 / 1 Enoch 12:4, Jude 6 / 1 Enoch 14:19, Revelation 22:1 / 1 Enoch 14:22, Revelation 5:11 / 1 Enoch 15:6-7, Mark 12:25 / 1 Enoch 16:1, Matthew 13:39 / 1 Enoch 16:3, 1 Peter 1:12 / 1 Enoch 18:13, Revelation 8:8 / 1 Enoch 18:15-16, Jude 13 / 1 Enoch 18:16, Revelation 20:3 / 1 Enoch 21:3, Revelation 8:8, 17:9 / 1 Enoch 21:5-6, Jude 13 / 1 Enoch 21:6, Revelation 20:3 / 1 Enoch 22:9-10, Hebrews 12:23 / 1 Enoch 22:9-14, Luke 16:26 / 1 Enoch 22:11, Jude 6 / 1 Enoch 25:5, Revelation 15:3 / 1 Enoch 27:3, Revelation 15:3 / 1 Enoch 38:2, Matthew 26:24 / 1 Enoch 39:4, Luke 16:9 / 1 Enoch 40:1, Revelation 5:11 / 1 Enoch 46:3, Colossians 2:3 / 1 Enoch 48:7, James 3:6 / 1 Enoch 48:10, Jude 4 / 1 Enoch 51:1, Revelation 20:13 / 1 Enoch 51:2, Luke 21:28 / 1 Enoch 51:4, Mark 12:25 / 1 Enoch 54:6, Revelation 13:14 / 1 Enoch 60:8, Jude 14 / 1 Enoch 61:5, Revelation 20:13 / 1 Enoch 61:8, Matthew 25:31 / 1 Enoch 62:2-3, Matthew 25:31 / 1 Enoch 62:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:3 / 1 Enoch 63:10, Luke 16:9 / 1 Enoch 66:2, Revelation 16:5 / 1 Enoch 69:27, Matthew 25:31, 26:64 / 1 Enoch 70:1-4, Hebrews 11:5 / 1 Enoch 83:3-5, 2 Peter 3:6 / 1 Enoch 86:1, Revelation 8:10 / 1 Enoch 91:7, Romans 1:18 / 1 Enoch 91:15, 2 Peter 2:4 / 1 Enoch 93:3, Jude 14 / 1 Enoch 94:8, Luke 6:24, James 5:1 / 1 Enoch 97:8-10, Luke 12:19, James 4:13 / 1 Enoch 98:4, James 1:14 / 1 Enoch 99:8, Romans 1:21 / 1 Enoch 102:5, Colossians 1:22 / 1 Enoch 103:4, Matthew 26:13 / 1 Enoch 104:13, 1 Corinthians 4:17
  8. D. A. Carson, “Pseudonymity and Pseudepigraphy,” 859; James H. Charlesworth, “Pseudonymity and Pseudepigraphy,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992) 540. George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch (ed. Klaus Baltzer; Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2001) 87.
  9. George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, ed. Klaus Baltzer, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2001), 142.
  10. Scholarly studies on the origin of demons as Watcher spirits of dead Nephilim include: Wright, The Origin of Evil Spirits (op. cit); Kevin Sullivan, “The Watchers Traditions in 1 Enoch 6– 16: The Fall of Angels and the Rise of Demons,” in The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Traditions (ed. Angela Kim Harkins, Kelley Coblentz Bautch, and John C. Endres; Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2014), 91– 103; Silviu N. Bunta, “Dreamy Angels and Demonic Giants: The Watchers Traditions and the Origin of Evil in Early Christian Demonology,” in The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Traditions (ed. Angela Kim Harkins, Kelley Coblentz Bautch, and John C. Endres; Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2014) 116–138.
  11. ‘tower’ in most English translations, but the Hebrew word is ‘miḡ·dāl’ usually referring to a fortress and emphasizing security. See D. A. Carson, ed., NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 42.
  12. “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language…”
  13. Even the ESV obscures the ‘sons of God’ references by translating to ‘heavenly beings,’ although the Hebrew says ‘sons of God,’ as admitted in the ESV footnotes.
  14. BibleProject, Divine Counsel Study Notes https://bibleproject.com/view-resource/324
  15. Ibid, Mackie.
  16. “The connection of the gods of the nations installed in Deut 32:8–9 with the demons (Hebrew: shedim) of Deut 32:17 can be traced by comparing Deut 32:8–9 with Deut 4:19–20; 17: 3; 29:25–26; 32:17. The interconnections of these passages are why Deuteronomy 32: 17 refers to the shedim (“demons”) as elohim (“ gods”).” Heiser, Michael S.. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (pp. 279-280). Lexham Press.
  17. Ibid. Mackie
  18. Michael S. Heiser, Reversing Hermon: Enoch, The Watchers & The Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 53.
  19. 2 Kgs. 1: 2, 3, 6, 16; Matt. 10: 25; 12: 24, 27; Luke 11: 15, 18– 19. See W. Herrmann, “Baal Zebub,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed. (ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst; Leiden; Boston; Cologne; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999) 154– 156.
  20. Michael S. Heiser, Reversing Hermon: Enoch, The Watchers & The Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 96.
  21. “Mount Hermon is a strong contender for the location of Jesus’ transfiguration. In all three Synoptic Gospels, the transfiguration occurs shortly after Peter’s confession, and both Matthew and Mark specify a “high mountain” (while Luke refers to “the mountain”). If these sections are to be taken chronologically, then Mount Hermon is the closest location that fits.” Brandon Ridley, “Mount Hermon,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Nickelsburg demonstrates the identification of Hermon / Bashan / Galilee in his study, “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee,” Journal of Biblical Literature 100: 4 (1981): 575– 600. The book of 1 Enoch itself identifies Hermon with the region known in Jesus’ day as Upper Galilee. When Enoch writes down the confessions and petitions of the Watchers— their pleas to God for forgiveness and clemency, he says, “And I went and sat down upon the waters of Dan— in Dan which is on the southwest of Hermon” (1 Enoch 13: 7). Nickelsburg observes, “This is a clear reference to the immediate environs of Tell Dan in upper Galilee” (p. 582). See John J. Rousseau and Rami Arav, Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 209–10. Mount Hermon also makes good sense in light of Psa 68: 15.
  22. Michael S. Heiser, Reversing Hermon: Enoch, The Watchers & The Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 99.
  23. Ibid. Mackie.
  24. Michael S. Heiser, Reversing Hermon: Enoch, The Watchers & The Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 101–102.
  25. As Matthew 12:26-27 attests, Beelzebul is another name for Satan. “Beelzebul derives from the old Semitic title for Baal, lord of the underworld, and Baal was also called “ruler of the earth” in Ugaritic texts nine times. This aspect of an association with Baal dovetails with the Deuteronomy 32 worldview that was part of Second Temple Jewish theology. Each nation was under the dominion of demons, so it is logical to consider a figure associated with Baal, the “ruler of the earth,” also to be the ruler of demons. The Gospel writers understood the casting down of the original rebel as conceptually connected to the underworld home of Baal, lord of the dead. The matrix of ideas illustrates how New Testament thinking about Satan, though creative in its articulation, has secure roots in the Old Testament.” Heiser, Michael S.. Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness (Kindle Locations 3151-3156). Lexham Press.
  26. Heiser, Michael S.. Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness (Kindle Locations 3213-3215). Lexham Press.
  27. For example, see Tertullian: On the Crown 3: “When we are going to enter the water, but a little before, in the presence of the congregation and under the hand of the president, we solemnly profess that we disown the devil, and his pomp, and his angels. Hereupon we are thrice immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel. Then when we are taken up “as new-born children” (Source: Tertullian, “The Chaplet, or De Corona,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian [ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe; vol. 3; The Ante-Nicene Fathers; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885] 394. See also, Tertullian, On the Shows 4; On the Soul 35.3. For a discussion of this practice, see Ansgar Kelly, The Devil at Baptism: Ritual, Theology, and Drama (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985) 94– 105.
  28. Joseph Dalton, Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits: A Study of 1 Peter 3:18–4:6 (vol. 23; Analecta Biblica; Roma: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1989).
  29. Michael S. Heiser, Reversing Hermon: Enoch, The Watchers & The Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 144.
  30. The Lexham English Septuagint, Second Edition. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), Enoch 10:13.
  31. Heiser, Michael S.. Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness (Kindle Locations 3283-3286). Lexham Press.