There are many divergent views about the second coming of Christ, but most agree that in the latter days there will be false prophets, false teachers, and false Messiahs. Jesus said, “For false christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time” (Matt. 24:24,25). That passage raises an important question.
Can godly people be deceived?
There is some ambiguity in that passage, but the apostle Paul was saying yes they can when he wrote 1 Tim. 4:1, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). That is presently happening to believers all over the world. All the testimonies I have shared in my books have come from believers. Can Satan put a thought in our heads is the bigger question? What does Scripture say? Let's examine the lives of two Bible heroes: David and Peter.
“Then Satan stood against Israel and incited (moved NASB) David to number Israel” (1 Chron. 21:1). How did Satan do that? Did he take on a human form and talk to David through the natural senses? No, those were David’s thoughts, or at least he thought they were. There is the deception. David had a whole heart for God. If he knew those thoughts were coming from Satan, he never would have obeyed them. Satan is not going to tempt a mature believer to sacrifice their babies, or do any other obvious satanic rituals. They would know where is it coming from and dismiss it.
So how would Satan deceive a mature believer like David? He would tempt him to take his eyes off of God’s resources and focus on his own. David had slain Goliath and wrote in Psalm 33 that “The horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue” (17). David knew that he couldn’t serve God and live a righteous life by his own strength and resources, and neither can we. But Satan incited David to do just that even though Joab asked him not to do so. As a result, judgment came upon Israel and 70,000 died of a pestilence (21:14). It is interesting to note that David’s lapse in judgment came after some major victories (Chapter 20), which is similar to Elijah’s fall after slaying 450 prophets of Baal. Good people can be deceived.
Satan deceived David in the Old Testament. Like Eve, David believed a lie and the consequences were devastating. Could that also happen to one of Christ’s apostles? It did! Luke records, “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve” (22:3). In John’s gospel it is recorded that, “During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him” (Jn. 13:2). Judas was called by God, witnessed the miraculous ministry of Jesus, and yet betrayed Him. How could that happen?
Some may conclude that Judas was just a bad character, and therefore acting out his depraved nature. That may explain why he had stolen from the treasury, but that is not what Scripture teaches. The thought of betraying Christ was put into the heart of Judas by Satan. Having stolen the money is what made him vulnerable to Satan’s schemes (thoughts). When Judas realized what he had done, he hung himself.
Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. Peter said to Him, Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death. Jesus said, I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Lu. 22:31-34), and that happened. I believe that Peter had a good heart, as opposed to Judas, which is why Jesus said “when you have turned again.” Jesus knew that Peter would be repentant. It is noteworthy that Jesus didn’t rebuke Satan and prevent him from controlling Peter. The context reveals what right Satan had to sift Peter like wheat. “A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Lu. 22:24). Pride comes before a fall.
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