We shall begin at Revelation 21. The context is God’s description of the new heaven and new earth.
Revelation 21:5-8 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful. And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
I submit to you that the pandemic we all face today is the plethora of lies issuing from Satan’s mouth and which, like a flood, overspread the entire face of the earth through the words and deeds of his children. God assures us that the Lake of Fire awaits those whose practice of deception is unbending, who love lies more than the truth.
My approach today will be to look at the eight elements (or items) in the catalog appearing in verse 8: In order, those eight elements are the three Greek adjectives, rendered in this translation as cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, followed by four Greek nouns, rendered as murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters. The last element is a Greek adjective, here rendered liars. While each item is certainly worthy of a sermon in itself, I shall focus on the third element, abominable, and then, again, on the sixth, sorcerers, which seems appropriate in this time of prevailing sickness, a time when doctors and their compeers, pharmacists, are hard at work practicing their witchcraft, their sorcery. Before we go there, however, I want to examine the structure of the catalog in verse 8.
In the Greek, each of the first seven elements link to the next one by a conjunction usually rendered in English with the conjunction and. This rhetorical device, called polysyndeton, often reflects coordination, that is, that each element is of equal importance. Indeed, on cursory review, the elements may seem to be coordinate, or parallel. But, there is a lot more to the story. At the risk of appearing overly analytical, I suggest that the eight elements fall into three distinct levels in this catalog.
The first level lists three Greek adjectives which describe the spiritual conditions which lead to the Lake of Fire: Those adjectives are cowardly, unbelieving, and abominable. I call these the forward elements, as they appear first in the catalog. Incidentally, Greek adjectives have a number marker; all these are plural, matching the plural elements in levels two and three.
The second level consists of four elements, all of which are plural nouns rather than adjectives, rendered as murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, and idolaters. These are not conditions, but denote conduct, that is, behaviors—things those headed to the Lake of Fire do—rather than descriptors of a spiritual condition or situation. We could put it this way: They are behaviors which spring from people who are in the condition of being cowards, unbelieving, and abominable.
The third level of the catalog has but one element. In Greek it is another adjective, “the lying” or “the false,” with an understood plural noun, like “the lying people.” Modern translators often render it as the noun liars or deceivers. I call this third level the universal level. It actually serves as a summary level, the single item describing all the seven previous elements in the list. Notice that it is the only element which has the word all in front of it: All of the cowardly, unbelieving, and abominable people, all of the people who behave as murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, and idolaters—everyone whose behaviors are such—are liars. It is best translated as an appositive, “all the lying,” referring to all the previous elements in the list. In other words, the sense conveyed by the word all, combined with the conjunction and which links the previous seven elements, is that lying is a common trait among those other elements.
So, the catalog has the three levels: the forward, listing three spiritual conditions, the behavioral level, listing four actions, and the universal or summary level, “all liars.”
There are a number of catalogs of this nature in Revelation. We shall only look at one other, and that briefly. It appears at Revelation 22. I shall refer to this catalog from time to time.
Both catalogs end with reference to all those who lie. Importantly, in the Greek, the last element in this catalog, that is, the term rendered here “whoever loves and practices a lie,” is made up of the same words which are translated by the term “all liars” in Revelation 21:8. (There are slight differences due to grammatical inflections, but the nouns are the same.) In the catalog of Revelation 22, there are no forward elements listing spiritual conditions (like cowardly, unbelieving, or abominable). But the behavioral elements are the same, except that their order is different and one additional element, dogs, appears up front. We shall talk about that additional item later on.
With that quick review of the structure of the two catalogs behind us, let us go back to Revelation 21:8 and look at the first of the three forward elements, cowardly. In the King James Version, it appears as fearful. It carries the sense of being in dread. That Greek word, deilos, appears in only two other places in the New Testament, both relating to the same incident, namely, Christ’s walking on water.
In its first use, Matthew 8:26, Christ asks His disciples gathered around Him in the boat, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” In the second use of deilos, Mark 4:40, He asks, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” Here then are two witnesses of Christ’s linking cowardice with faithlessness.
So, He is linking, you understand, the first element of our list, cowardice, with the second, unbelief. The two are related. However, He does not here describe the nature of that relationship; He does not tell whether fear causes the lack of faith, whether the lack of faith causes fear, or whether faithlessness and fear are related to another, a separate, a third entity. He did, however, later inspire the apostle John to provide additional information about the fear-faithless nexus. It is at I John 4, where love (agape) enters the picture.
I John 4:18 (J.B. Phillips New Testament) Love contains no fear—indeed fully-developed love expels every particle of fear.
The International Standard Version translates it, “Perfect love banishes fear.” Love which is mature, that is, which is fully-developed, and fear are incompatible.
Paul also points out that fear and love mix like water and oil in II Timothy 1. The word translated cowardly here is the noun form of the word used in Revelation 21:8, deilos.
II Timothy 1:7 (GOD’s WORD Translation) God didn’t give us a cowardly spirit but a spirit of power, love [agape], and good judgment.
In context here, Paul is talking about the gift of God’s Holy Spirit; he is admonishing Timothy to fan that Spirit into flames, to stir it up. Being fearful is a sure sign of the lack of God’s Spirit—by that I mean, the lack of God’s Spirit in sufficient quantity to overcome fear. Fear and faith are mutually exclusive; God will not accept the fearful because they exhibit a gap in faith and in love which is unacceptable to Him. The best medicine to take for fear is God’s Spirit—the more the better. Obviously, the fearful person, by refusing to trust in God’s commitment and in His ability to provide, displays characteristics which ultimately render him fit only for the Lake of Fire.
This all segues nicely to a look at the second forward element of our catalog in Revelation 21:8, unbelieving. The Greek word underlying the word unbelieving is the usual word for faith, pistos, with a negative particle a attached as a prefix—like atypical or asymmetrical or amoral. So, it means, “no faith,” “without faith.” The first use of apistos appears at Matthew 17:17: “Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?”
In Hebrews 11 where Paul notifies us that faith is a perquisite for pleasing God.
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith [the noun pistos, the root word in apistos] it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Notice, not just faith that God exists, but that He is committed to providing for those who “diligently seek Him,” rewarding them. Have you ever considered how unconditional are the beatitudes? It does not read, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they might be comforted,” but, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” And so with all of them. God’s people must take it as an article of faith that He is both ableand willing to reward those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who are merciful, and so on.
Unbelieving is a forward element in the Revelation 21:8 list because its converse, faith, is absolutely requisite to forming a relationship with God. The unbelieving, the unfaithful, will come to the point where they simply will not obey God’s law, but will in time come to exhibit one or more of those behaviors listed in level two of the catalog. That is, they will become murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters—one of more, not necessarily all of them.
The apostle Paul, writing to Titus, provides my segue between this second element of our list, unbelieving, and the third one, abominable. Here, the apostle links the two:
Titus 1:15-16 (J.B. Phillips New Testament) Everything is wholesome to those who are themselves wholesome. But nothing is wholesome to those who are themselves unwholesome and who have no faith [apistos] in God—their very minds and consciences are diseased. They profess to know God, but their actual behavior denies their profession, for they are obviously vile [abominable in the King James Version] and rebellious and when it comes to doing any real good they are palpable frauds.
It is easy to see why the unbelieving person, the one lacking faith, cannot please God. We shall see later that they become abominable.
Here, the sense of the Greek is that it is the person, not his works, who become abominable. Paul says the unbelieving person becomes abominable and that his works are only ostensibly good—apparently so. He is a fraud. I selected the Phillips’ Paraphrase because of its stress on behavior. Abominable is the last of the forward elements of the Revelation 21:8 catalog. Fast on its heels comes the second level of the list, the one listing the four behavioral elements, those marked by actions, such as sexual impurity, murder, and so on.
Paul’s use of the noun behavior in Titus 1:16 is noteworthy: “They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable. . . .” In this passage, the apostle links the concept of faithlessness to abomination, and he also links it to behavior—what one does. The three forward elements in our catalog are all linked in the Scriptures.
At this point, let us take a look at this word abominable, quite an interesting word. The Greek word underlying it here in Titus 1 is the Greek adjective bdelyktoi. It appears only here.
The element abominable in the catalog at Revelation 21:8 is related to bdelyktoi. In the catalog, it is a passive participle: “having become abominable.” These people were not always abominable, but they became so through their cowardice and unbelief, conditions which manifest themselves in murders, sorcery and the other behaviors listed in the catalog.
In Greek, the verb underlying our word “abomination” carries the meaning of “to render foul, to cause to be abhorred,” “to turn oneself away from on account of the stench,” metaphorically, “to abhor, detest.” It derives from another Greek verb, bdeo, “to stink,” which itself does not appear in God’s Word. Bdeo is a strong verb; in classic Greek, it often appears in the context of flatulence.
The noun form of this same bdeo, often translated as abomination or abominations, appears six times in the New Testament. I shall review the first three of them quickly and spend more time on the latter three:
1. The first use of this noun meaning abomination is in the Olivet Prophecy, Matthew 24:15, where Christ speaks of the abomination of desolations. We shall come back to that later.
2. It appears in Mark’s version of the Olivet Prophecy, in Mark 13:14.
3. It also appears at Luke 16:15, where Christ notifies the Pharisees that “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” Christ addresses His comments to the Pharisees, who, Luke tells us in verse 14, “were lovers of money.” The Pharisees and God were not on the same page, not singing from the same song-sheet, as we say today.
4. I want to dwell a bit more deeply on the appearance of the Greek noun meaning abomination at Revelation 21:27. This is close to its appearance in our catalog. We learn there that the person who causes abomination or a lie will not enter the New Jerusalem.
Revelation 21:27 (Disciples' Literal New Testament) And every defiled thing, and the one doing abomination and falsehood, will never enter into it, but only the ones having been written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Other translations render abomination there as lewdness, foulness, detestable, vile, abhorrent—all stock renditions of the Greek noun for abomination.
Through the term, “the one doing abomination and falsehood,” this passage unambiguously connects abominations with lies or falsehood. That is going to become important as we move along, because prevarication, remember, is the last element of both catalogs. By way of review, that last element is “all liars” in Revelation 21:8 and the equivalent term, “whoever loves and practices a lie” in Revelation 22:15. Lies, that is, deception, is the universal element, common to all the other elements in both lists. The abominable are, by definition, liars.
One final point about Revelation 21:27. Christ seems to emphasize the word doing there: “And every defiled thing, and the one doing abomination and falsehood, will never enter into” the New Jerusalem. A number of translations read something like “the one who practices abomination and lying.” While terminology about practicing deceit is absent in the Revelation 21 catalog, the catalog at Revelation 22:15 does include a reference to “doing” deceit: “whoever loves and practices a lie.” In fact, in Greek, the similarity in vocabulary and in grammar between Revelation 21:27 and Revelation 22:15 is striking.
My point is this: While being an abomination is a spiritual condition, it manifests itself in what an individual does, in what he practices. And what is the very next element in the list in the Revelation 21:8 catalog? Murderers. It is the first of the behavioral elements, those items which list actions that keep people out of God’s Kingdom. In other words, after abomination, the next four elements, the behavioral ones, focus on practices: murder, sexual immorality, sorcery. and idolatry. The catalog makes a really smooth progression from spiritual conditions to sinful actions.
In Revelation 17:4-6, the Greek noun for abomination appears twice, which brings the total number of occurrences to six in all. I shall reserve comment about this passage for later. Let me lay some groundwork first.
In the Old Testament, there are no less than eight words which the translators of the King James Version often render as abomination(s) or abominable. (Various versions do not always translate these eight words that way, but they often do.) In aggregate, these eight Hebrew words appear 219 times in the Old Testament. Put all these words, and all the occasions of their use, in a big pot and stir well. Which would rise to the top of the pot as the first used, the first appearance of any of those eight words?
Geneses 34:27-31 (Amplified Bible) Then Jacob’s [other] sons came upon those who were killed and looted the town, because their sister had been defiled … . They took the Canaanites’ flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field; they looted all their wealth, and [took captive] all their children and their wives, even everything that was in the houses. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have ruined me, making me a stench to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites! My men are few in number, and the men of the land will band together against me and attack me; I shall be destroyed, I and my household.” But they said, “Should he [be permitted to] treat our sister as a prostitute?”
The context is the story of Shechem the Hivite and his carnal, though apparently consensual, relationship with Dinah, the daughter of Jacob through Leah. Her full brothers, Levi and Simeon, act duplicitously, convincing the Hivites that all would be forgiven if they became circumcised. Their real intentions become manifest when they attack and kill the men of the city while they are still unable to defend themselves due to the medical procedure. Worse yet, the other brothers (Benjamin, about 2 at the time, is excluded, as probably is Joseph, who would have been only about 14), exploit the situation by seizing the Hivite’s dependents and their property. All this leads Jacob to reprimand Levi and Simeon for their perfidy and duplicity. Verse 31, a curt and lame response to Jacob’s rebuke, indicates that Levi and Simeon lacked remorse and seemed unconcerned that their act of vengeance had the potential of jeopardizing Israel—Jacob and his entire household.
The word abomination does not appear in Jacob’s remarks, not in any of the 40 or so translations I checked. It just is not there. Or is it? Remember, Jacob said “You have ruined me, making me a stench to the inhabitants of the land.” Remember that word stink, I mentioned it earlier as an underlying meaning to the Greek word for abomination, deriving from the verb bdeo, meaning “to stink.” And here, the concept of stench underlies this Hebrew word which is elsewhere translated as abomination. Other translations of verse 30 use terms like you made me a “foul odor,” “infamous,” “obnoxious,” “odious,” “offensive,” “revolting,” “repugnant,” and “very bad smell.” The Hebrew word is strong.
Levi and Simeon were scam artists, nothing more than con-men, but those of the worst kind, con-men who murder. They promised that everything would be alright, but they delivered a violent death. And, the gap between promise and delivery was not the result of unforeseen events, unintended consequences, or things getting out of hand. Rather, they conspired to carry out their murders from the outset; their execution of their plan was cold-blooded. I get the feeling that they, and perhaps the other brothers as well, used the Dinah situation, exploited it, leveraging it to their own advantage—to gain wealth. This sort of thing is not uncommon in the world; we have witnessed it firsthand over and over again in the last few months as liberals hijack a medical situation to further their own social agendas.
The abominable person is the artful dodger who, through sinful acts, through the dodge, through treacheries, truce-breaking, and such, makes Israel, the people of God, look bad, damages Israel’s reputation, brings disrepute to God’s name, and ultimately endangers Israel—even existentially, as Jacob here says when speaking to his dirty-dealing sons (verse 30).
Looked at this way, abominable people are clear and present dangers to the furtherance of the “Israel Project,” as I term God’s plan for Israel. Israel is a major part of God’s plan. No wonder God does not keep them around. God wants Israel to be a good example, a blessing, to the world, a light to the Gentiles, not to be so befouled by sin as to drive others away, not so repugnant as to incite others to confederate themselves, as Jacob foresaw, in order to attack and overcome Israel, ultimately destroying her. All that is what the abominable inexorably do. God has promised He will preserve Israel. That is His will. The abominable work at cross purposes to God.
This is not a trifling matter. Jacob had every reason to be upset with Levi and Simeon. Indeed, he remembered their cruelty to his last day. In Genesis 49:1, the dying patriarch gathers his sons around him to tell them “what shall befall you in the last days.” Jacob speaks here as a prophet: In verse 7, he predicts that God would scatter the Levites and Simeonites among the other tribes. It is my guess God did so to limit the damage they would do if they were concentrated. They remain, to this day, sifted throughout Israel. In all likelihood, a number of their descendants live up to their forebearers’ reputation of deceit and treachery.
We shall back up a minute to put this incident in its broader historical context. It probably took place less than a decade after Jacob returned to Canaan; Dinah would have been about 15 when she encountered Shechem, far too young to be traveling to town unescorted. Shechem and his father Hamor sold the inhabitants of the city on the proposal of Levi and Simeon, the proposal that they receive circumcision, on the grounds that the Israelites were good for business. Notice Hamor’s remarks.
Genesis 34:21-23 “These men are at peace with us. Therefore let them dwell in the land and trade in it. For indeed the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters to us as wives, and let us give them our daughters. Only on this condition will the men consent to dwell with us, to be one people: if every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock, their property, and every animal of theirs be ours?”
If Hamor were alive today, you would not have to work hard to sell him on the idea of globalism! He would certainly take advantage of any free trade agreement that came along the line. But, consider this: Was Hamor’s sentiment echoed by the players when Genesis 41 rolls around, about 15 years later, when famine had stuck the land? Then, did the pagans, considering their hungry families, remember the treachery of Levi and Simeon? Did their leaders, capitalizing on the duress of the famine, egg the people on to war against Israel? Did the Gentiles’ understanding of geopolitics at that time lead them conclude that the land was in fact no longer “large enough” for them and for Israel? In the fierce competition for what little food there was, did they make plans to wipe out the Israelites? Did God take Jacob and his house out of the land, into Egypt, to protect them from the ever-lengthening shadows of war, the gathering zeitgeist of genocide? Is this, at least in part, the deliverance Joseph mentioned when he later addressed his bothers?
Genesis 45:5-7 “God sent me before you [into Egypt] to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”
Do we frequently thank God that He has not lost sight of the descendants of Levi and Simeon? After all, He knows where they are, and, as we sing, He “sees their every doing.” Above all, He protects us, “by a great deliverance," from them. If we only had the eyes to see!
Some commentators claim that fear rather than faith underlies Jacob’s comments to his wayward sons, that he was more interested in himself than others. They fail to understand that Jacob was both patriarch and prophet. In point of fact, in Genesis 34, he speaks presciently of an abomination of desolation appearing in his day, a type of the abomination which makes desolate, of which Christ later speaks.
With that groundwork laid, we are now ready to look at Revelation 17:4-6. Here the Greek noun for abomination appears twice.
Revelation 17:4-6 (Disciples' Literal New Testament) And the woman had been clothed-with purple and scarlet, and gilded with gold, and with precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand being-full of abominations and the impure things of her sexual-immorality, and a name having been written upon her forehead, a mystery: “Babylon the Great, the mother of the prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.” And I saw the woman being-drunk from the blood of the saints, and from the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.
The woman symbolizes Babylon, the mother (that is, the source) of abominations. Remember, abominations there the Greek noun related to the concept of stench. Drunk with the blood of God’s people (verse 6), she obviously imperils them. She is a danger to them. You see the parallel here with Jacob’s comment in Genesis 34:30: Jacob felt that the Gentiles living on all sides of him would come to consider the Israelites persona non grata, people who should not be in the land which God had given them. He feared they would confederate, ganging up and overpowering his family in revenge for the murders committed by Levi and Simeon. He saw his entire house (the House of Israel) threatened through their treachery. He could not forget that, if you will forgive the very much intended double entendre, they were the ones who raised the stink with their violent subterfuge.
Obviously, there are parallels here with the abomination which makes desolate, as vast armies surround Jerusalem in a time not too far future. When you are searching the Scriptures to determine what that particular abomination is, what it is going to look like when it comes, do not forget Genesis 34 and the tribes of Levi and Simeon as causative agents. The armies who surround Jerusalem will be there probably because of lies promulgated by some members of these tribes. In Matthew 24:15, Christ refers to the abomination of desolation as something which could be seen. It is my guess that it will stink as well. When the final abomination that makes desolate becomes manifest, God will take action to preserve the lives of His household in a “great deliverance,” just as He did in Jacob’s days, delivering him from trouble.
Prophetically, Genesis 34 is one important chapter indeed! As an indication of its pertinence, consider: Of its 31 verses, 13 contain at least one instance of a first use of a Hebrew word. There is a total of 21 “first appearances” in chapter 34. Of the 22 Hebrew words of verse 30 alone, the verse where Jacob chides his sons for their treachery, five are first occurrences.
This is something you would expect in the early chapters of Genesis; after all, in chapter 1, all the discrete—the distinct—words are first occurrences. However, it is not common so late in the book. You find, for example, far fewer first appearances in chapters 32 and 33. A lot of them pop up in chapter 34, though. God is introducing some really important material there.
At this point, I shall shift focus, turning attention on the four behavioral elements in the list at the Revelation 21:8, the first of which is murderers. It may appear first because it is the most obvious one, one of those types of sins which are “clearly evident,” rather than one which “follow[s] later,” as Paul mentions in I Timothy 5:24. In the catalog at Galatians 5:19-21, Paul calls murder a work of the flesh. And indeed, who in his right mind wants to be around an unrepentant murderer, like say, Cain was? No wonder God does not want them around.
I attested earlier that all the elements in the list are connected with lying. Murder and lying are related: Christ establishes that connection at John 8:44-45, where He refers to His enemies as the children of Satan in that they practice murder as did Satan, “from the beginning.” He calls Satan the father of lies practically in the same breath. Hence, Levi and Simeon, being liars and mass murders, certainly had a lot to repent of, having deported themselves like the children of Satan.
We know, of course, that murder’s real impact for God’s people lies in its spiritual application, for, as Christ says, murder finds its root in our carnal mind: Matthew 15:19: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” John, in I John 3:15, asserts that “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” So, the child of God who holds grudges, who resolutely refuses to build proper relationships with his brethren, is headed, frankly, for the Lake of Fire.
Let us look just briefly at the second behavioral element in our list: sexually immoral. In the Greek, it is the plural form of the noun pornos. This is the word from which we get our noun pornography. Other translations use whoremongers, fornicators, adulterers, traffickers in sex, sex peddlers, perverts, and the intolerably coy, unchaste. Most specifically, the reference is to a male prostitute, but pornos may refer to any sort of homosexual practice and possibly to any illicit sexual practice. It may be coordinate with the noun dogs, appearing as the first element in the similar catalog in Revelation 22:15. I refer you to Deuteronomy 23:18, where the noun dog apparently has the meaning of a male prostitute.
In any case, Paul twice makes it clear that unrepentant, practicing homosexuals face the Lake of Fire. One of those occasions is at I Corinthians 6:9-10. The other is at Ephesians 5:5: “For this you know, that no fornicator [pornos], unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Notice that Paul includes the noun idolater here, thereby linking pornos to the last behavioral element in the Revelation 21 list.
But, before we get to that fourth element, idolatry, let us spend a bit of time looking at the third element, sorcerers. I shall be as brief as possible about the three Greek words involved here. Two of them (pharmakeus and pharmakos) appear just once each, one in the Revelation 21:8 catalog, the other in the Revelation 22:15 catalog. Both words carry the same general meanings: 1.) “one who prepares or uses magical remedies” and 2.) a “sorcerer.” The translators of the King James Version render both of these words as “sorcerers.” Both of these words therefore are quite concrete, referring to a person who behaves in a certain way.
A third related noun, pharmakeia, is more complex, referring to an abstraction rather than to a person. It appears three times in the New Testament. It refers to “the use or administration of drugs,” “poisoning,” “sorcery, magical arts. … [The word is] often found in connection with idolatry … .” That is important: pharmakeia links with the last behavioral element in our catalog, idolatry. Metaphorically, pharmakeia refers to “the deceptions and seductions of idolatry.” Its first appearance is at Galatians 5:20, where Paul lists it, rendered in the King James Version as “witchcraft,” as the sixth work of the flesh. We shall look at the other two appearances of this word later. Of these three words, only pharmakeia appears outside the Book of Revelation.
An hour’s review of these three words on the Internet will demonstrate the widespread confusion about them. One writer says the pagan priests sought to deceive people by concocting potions which caused hallucinations and impaired the senses. That is historically documentable; remember that Socrates died by drinking a poisoned brew of hemlock. But, then, this writer goes on to use the Revelation references to sorcery to argue for total abstinence from alcohol on the grounds that it too impairs reason and perception. We know that this is not the thrust of the Scriptures regarding alcoholic consumption. This writer is off base.
Another writer goes to great pains to argue that ancient “pharmacists” were in fact pagan priests while modern doctors and pharmacists practice what he calls the science of medicine. He concludes therefore that it is fine to use approved drugs, to go to doctors, etc. He is attempting to counter the arguments of a number of people who believe that these three words in Revelation teach Christians to avoid doctors because they are “sorcerers.”
Think about it: All these points and counterpoints, arguments and counterarguments, miss the mark. In their context in Revelation 18, Revelation 21, and 22, the topic is the second death, the Lake of Fire—matters of destiny—rather than questions about drinking alcohol or taking an aspirin or visiting your cardiologist. Such discussions are pointless and distracting, only to throw sand in our face. (And this situation all stems from the fact that the English words pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and pharmacist derive from the three Greek words, mentioned above, which appear five times in the book of Revelation, once in the book of Galatians.)
I urge that ours is not the task of determining how Sophocles or Plato and Archimedes understood these words, but of discovering how God uses them. The Scriptures define these words for us, as God intends them to be understood in the context of His revelation to us. The Scriptures need to be our focus.
Revelation 18 provides information vital to answering the question, “What does God mean by the word pharmakeia?” Mr. Armstrong taught that the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures. God’s Word defines the terms it uses, whether it be “that serpent of old” as Satan or the word hades or whatever. Hades is a classic example; I shall dwell on it a minute. It is the name of a Greek god, like Pluto, of the underworld. He gave his name to the land he ruled, the land of the dead—hades. There are utterly absurd Greek myths, all teaching in one form or another the lie of the immortality of the soul, about the nature of the underworld, involving the boatman Charon rowing dead people across the River Styx into the land of the dead.
But, God does not want our minds to visit the murky waters of paganism when we read passages like Revelation 1:18, about Christ holding the keys of hades. God knows better than anyone that Hades, the god, is only a demon, and no god at all. He inspired the writers of the New Testament to use the noun hades to refer to the grave, the place of the dead, or what the Old Testament calls sheol. We lack time to go into it, but the Scriptures are careful to define what the noun hades means from God’s perspective. And, that perspective is not at all the view of the Greeks—has nothing even remotely to do with it. We need to get beyond Greek literature and Greek usage when defining hades. And that holds true for any number of other Greek words as well. We need to let the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures. To do otherwise is to open ourselves up to what Paul calls “disputes and arguments over words.” So, with pharmakeia.
Revelation 18:23 The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery [pharmakeia] all the nations were deceived.
There is the definition. If you know your chapters, you know that the subject here is the fall of great Babylon. The word sorcery, remember, is abstract, referring to the use of something. Sorcery is the tool Babylon the Great uses to deceive all the nations. Other translations say that sorcery is the method by which nations are tricked or led astray. Sorcery is far more than drugs, although it can involve drugs. Pharmakeia, sorcery, is the worldwide poisoning of people’s minds though deception. (I chose the gerund poisoning to indicate the probable figurative link between the English noun sorcery and the Greek noun pharmakeia.)
Revelation 18:23 shows us that the complex which God’s Word calls Babylon the Great so fully subscribes to Satan’s deceptions, so fully endorses them, that it leverages its hegemony over the nations to spread those lies worldwide, ultimately destroying itself and the nations. While the use of legal and illegal drugs is certainly part of that deception, sorcery is far greater in scope than drugs or even “big pharma.” Notice, incidentally, that in Revelation 17 and 18, where the topic is the fall of Babylon the Great, there is no emphasis on drugs.
Satan, not Prince Charles, the Rothschild family, Bill Gates, or anyone else you may care to suggest, is the creator and the prime mover of Babylon’s great deceit. Revelation 20:3 refers to the angel binding Satan in a bottomless pit “so that he should deceive the nations no more.” Verse 8 tells us that, upon his release a thousand years later, he “will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth.” Sorcery is the deceit which is Satan’s work. Sorcery is what he does. He is the father of lies (John 8:44), the father of trickery.
How you have fallen from the heavens! You destroyer of nations. . . .
A few verses later, the prophet describes him as the one
Isaiah 14:17 (Christian Standard Bible) who turned the world into a wilderness, who destroyed its cities and would not release the prisoners to return home. . . .
How does he do that? He deceives people, leaders—everyone. He is the architect of deception. Sorcery is the practice of deceiving, inspired by Satan. That is the biblical definition of pharmakeia. Sorcery is (one of) the viaduct(s) or tool(s) which Satan uses to trick the nations in order to ruin them. According to Revelation 9:11, one of Satan’s names is Apollyon, which means “destroyer.”
The bottom line: If there is a pandemic today, it is a pandemic of deception. Deception lurks everywhere, at every level—from the parent who lies to his children about Easter eggs, tooth fairies, and Santa Claus, to lies told by bureaucrats seeking to protect their turf, scientists seeking grants, attorneys seeking a judgeship, politicians seeking a place in history, media people seeking to be change agents, advertisers wishing to keep their clients happy, businessmen seeking money, teachers seeking money, bankers seeking—well, you guessed it, money. Just like the Pharisees I mentioned earlier in Luke 16, these liars love money. Certainly, the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, is it not!
I am not saying that all lies fall into the category of sorcery. Some undoubtedly do not. But, those lies which reach to the ends of the earth, which affect all the nations to their harm—those deceptions fit the biblical definition of sorceries.
In standard usage, the sense of the noun sorcery covers a number of referents, ranging from occultic practices like witchcraft and voodoo to so-called entertaining magic and ventriloquism to apotropaic magic involving the use of amulets and talismans, like a rabbit’s foot or four-leaf clover, to ward off evil or bad luck. A sorcerer’s bag of tricks is substantial.
But, the bottom line behind it is just that: Trickery. In the black arts it involves hexes, often to take vengeance on an enemy, or the use of potions to accomplish this or that nefarious purpose. Or, throwing your voice to make others think you are not the person actually speaking, but that someone else is. Ventriloquism is a highly deceitful practice. Or, throwing salt over your left shoulder to drive Satan away.
In the white arts of sleight of hand, or prestidigitation, involves making something appear to come from nowhere, a denial of the laws of cause and effect, as a coin or egg or rabbit seemingly coming out of thin air. Card sharks are charlatans who cheat players by manipulating cards. It is all illusion. Modern magicians use technology to advantage. Do you realize that the word sleight is related to the word sly (that is, cunning) and that some semanticists believe that the verb slay comes from the same ancient root as sly? Satan knows better than anyone: Lies kill.
Now, admittedly, much of what I have just described is on the fringe. How many bona fide card sharks do you know—if bona fide and card sharks is not an oxymoron? Had dinner with a ventriloquist lately? Probably not.
1. But, for all that, what about the scientists, professors and teachers who tell us that life started in some warm primordial goo long, long time ago? There is nothing fringe about that at all. Evolution is about as mainstream as you can get nowadays; thousands and thousands and thousands of people earn their living teaching it, advancing it. That is what God’s Word means by “practicing a lie”—using lies to earn a living. But, it is all something out of nothing, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Evolution is a denial of science, where matters of cause and effect become matters of no concern. This is modern sorcery.
2. The non-science, or maybe better, the nonsense, of climate change is another example of modern sorcery. Fact rides in the rumble seat while fake drives the buggy and truth ends up in a ditch—and you can be sure the ditch is on the left. It is as fake as cutting the lady in two. Do you know that fake and fib ultimately have the same root?
3. Or, a puff of smoke and the universe is. The so-called big bang theory lacks even a guy waving a wand. It just happened one day—out of nowhere.
Now, biblical commentators have a penchant to link false doctrines to sorcery. And that is fine. The Catholic Church teaches that the wine of the Eucharist actually turns to Christ’s blood. It calls that teaching the doctrine of transubstantiation. What kind of hocus-pocus is that? It is as silly as the Fatima hoax.
But, we do not have to look to false science or to false religion to see sorceries overspreading the earth. Consider that icon of the Babylonian system, the fractional-reserve banking system. The banks actually lend money they do not have but expect to get as debtors pay back their loans. Banks actually create money this way. This is a classic smoke and mirrors act, projecting an image on a cloud of smoke. But, when the smoke disperses, the image is gone. Poof. We shall probably see that happening over and over again in the next few months, as businesses and individuals react to the damaged economy—the smoke disappearing and the image vanishing.
Just wait until Americans figure out that someone has to pay back all those trillions of dollars in government bailout! That money is not coming out of nowhere. There is no free lunch. Really! The fractional-reserve banking system, a worldwide scheme supported by various national banks, the IMF, and the World Monetary fund, is illusion, giving people a feeling of financial security as they stand on the precipice of financial ruin.
Pharmakeia makes yet another appearance at Revelation 9. The context is the trumpet plagues.
Revelation 9:20-21 But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries [pharmakeia] or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
This passage affords a really good segue to the last behavioral element of our list in Revelation 21:8, idolaters. Revelation 9 ends with yet another list of sinful conduct: namely, murder, sorcery, immorality, and stealing. It is clear in this verse that these four elements are works. What this translation does not make clear is the connection between these works and idolatry. I am going to quote verse 20 from the GOD’S WORD Translation, which rightly states the linkage between these sinful works and idolatry.
Revelation 9:20 The people who survived these plagues still did not turn to me and change the way they were thinking and acting. If they had, they would have stopped worshiping demons and idols.
The Disciples' Literal New Testament has it, “they did not even repent from the works of their hands, so that they will not worship demons and idols… .” The Amplified Bible renders it, they “did not repent even then of the works of their hands, so as to cease worshiping … demons and … idols.” The implication is that, had the people repented of the works—their murders and thefts and immorality and lies (sorceries)—they would ultimately turn away from the worship of idols, false gods. Paul explains in I Corinthians 10 that demons are behind idols.
I Corinthians 10:14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
In context, Paul is speaking about idol worship. Notice the connection he makes between idols and demons.
I Corinthians 10:20 [T]he things which the Gentiles sacrifice [to idols] they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.
Again, the apostle makes this comment in the context of his remarks about idolatry.
Exodus 32:4 records what must be one of the biggest lies of all times. The children of Israel, who certainly should have known better, upon seeing the golden calf, exclaim, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Idolatry is a gigantic lie; idolaters are complicit in its promulgation. I shall close in Jeremiah 5. The prophet discusses the righteousness as well as the certainty of God’s judgment on a sinful nation:
Jeremiah 5:1-3 “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem; see now and know; and seek in her open places if you can find a man, if there is anyone who executes judgment, who seeks the truth, and I will pardon her. Though they say, ‘As the Lord lives,’ Surely they swear falsely.”
Jeremiah 5:30-31 “An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?
Yes, if Dr. Fauci says “Green is red,” the American people are ready to buy into the lie without qualms. But, what will be the end of all this?
Of course, “the end” in the context of this prophecy is the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. But, in the context of Revelation 21 and 22, where we have been dwelling, Babylon has herself already fallen. “The end of all things is at hand,” Peter avers at I Peter 4:7: the creation of the new heaven and new earth, the destruction of the unbending wicked in the Lake of Fire, as we read there in Revelation 21 at the beginning of my comments.
God’s people, having spiritual understanding, may look north and south and east and west and see only lies, deception of every stripe enshrouding the earth, darkening every horizon. To those whose life centers under the sun, there appears to be nothing over the horizon that offers any light. We know, of course, that the light of Christ’s truth will dispel those lies—every single one of them.
Between the time of His death and the time He makes all things new, when He asserts, “It is finished,” He will have destroyed all unrepentant sinners, whether spiritual or physical beings. He will have destroyed them spiritually and physically—totally. There will be no one remaining with words to define, to describe, to eulogize them. They will be gone and forgotten, no longer a part of any reality whatsoever. (Now, that is real proof, by the way!)
Christ will have “put an end to sin,” as we read at Daniel 9:24. Let us be thankful that God will not permit Satan and his children into that new creation, while all the time praying earnestly that He will deliver us from the evil one and his many children scattered around us, and indeed shifted among us.