Recently I finished watching a short but fascinating documentary titled “Galileo’s Moon” (Spoiler Alert: What follows will spill the beans, but viewing the show is worth your time nonetheless). It tells the story of a manuscript of Galileo Galilei’s book Siderus Nuncius (originally published in 1610) that hit the rare book market in 2005.
Siderus Nuncius, which described Galileo’s observations of the heavens, became a paradigm-shifting work when it offered evidence for Nicolai Copernicus’ heliocentric view of the universe. The copy that appeared in 2005 underwent intense scientific scrutiny before being pronounced an authentic, early version of the work, and thus exceedingly rare. It’s estimated value ran to $10 million dollars.
Now, as you might expect, all was not as it seemed. The gist of the story is that nine years later, in 2014, a skeptical and observant historian reexamined the manuscript. His investigation, subsequently confirmed by others, proved the copy was in fact a fraud; a clever, excellent, deceptive, and highly believable fraud. Prior to 2014, most rare book dealers believed it impossible to create successful forgeries of books from the 17thcentury. After 2014, that false hope came tumbling down.
What’s particularly fascinating about the documentary is that the forger turns out to be a well-known former Italian government official who, at the time of filming, is serving a seven-year term of house arrest for other crimes. The man in question makes no attempt to hide or deny his efforts to deceive with the copy of Siderus Nuncius. In fact, he unabashedly delights in his work, relishing his long success at hoodwinking top experts in the world of rare books. He even describes in detail how he produced the forgery. At one point he speaks of needing to “distract one’s eyes from the print,” in other words, giving examiners something so remarkable that they would miss other tell-tale signs of fraud. This led him to include certain features in the book, including a forgery of Galileo’s own signature. In the words of the man himself, “It’s like with a magician. When he comes on stage the magician gives the audience something to see in order cover up his own tricks.” This charlatan goes on to justify his work by putting the blame on others: “But I didn’t create a fake Nuncius. I created a different Nuncius…The problem is the fake historians who did not recognize that it was a reproduction.”
As I watched this story unfold, and especially as I listened to the forger himself, I found myself struck by profound biblical parallels. Here I’m thinking especially of Satan, the great deceiver, the chief opposer of God and the enemy of God’s people. Satan is a wicked being whose goal, since at least Genesis 3, has been to supplant God and destroy his works, particularly his beloved humanity. Satan’s primary weapon is deceit; deceit used to entice human beings into sinful rebellion against God. Since the beginning of human sin with Adam and Eve in the Garden, we have been culpable and willing suckers for Satan’s wiles. Scripture speaks of Satan masquerading as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). That is to say, Satan’s deceptions look good, they look believable, enticing, and worthy of attention, despite being in reality wicked, corrupted, worthless, and deadly. Paul refers to this satanic masquerade when he speaks of false apostles in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 (NASB): “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” Satan and his schemes hold out what looks attractive and captivating in order to “distract one’s eyes from the [corrupted] print.” He is like the magician who “…gives the audience something to see in order cover up his own tricks.”
The degree of Satanic deception – that is already underway and will only grow with intensity as God’s plan unfolds – appears with startling clarity in the Apostle John’s Apocalypse, or Revelation. There, in chapters 12, 13, and 16 we read of remarkable satanic activity carried out by the dragon (Satan himself), the beast from the sea, and the beast from the earth (perhaps the false prophet of Revelation 16:13). What Satan and his side-kicks accomplish in these chapters hinges on his ability to deceive human beings who hate God and are eager to be deceived. The elaborateness, extent, and effects of this deception campaign are stunning. In short, all but a select few willingly fall prey to the charade, not realizing they do so to their damnation. It’s no wonder that the Spirit through John warns this in Revelation 13:8-9 (NASB): “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear.” Speaking in Matthew 24 of the same timeframe and the same satanic deceptions, Jesus says, “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (Matthew 24:23-28, NASB). The upshot of Jesus’ words is this: “I’ve warned you in advance, don’t be deceived!”
As you read the words of Revelation and Matthew’s gospel, note who it is that sees through Satan’s scheme and avoids falling prey to his trap. It is those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. It is the elect (Note: One point of Matthew 24 is that the elect will not be misled by the appearance of a false Christ). It is bonified followers of Jesus Christ, people saved from God’s wrath and enslavement to sin by grace through faith. It is people chosen by God in eternity past for salvation, predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). It is people who obey the Gospel, confess their sin, repent, and receive the free gift of eternal life offered to them in Jesus’ name. It is people whose lives are being transformed from the wicked idolatry of self to the holy worship of God. Over such as these, Satan’s deceptive power fails. Why? The answer is simple: They know the real thing. They know the real Jesus. They see through Satan’s lie because it cannot ultimately replace truth, no matter how well he may mimic reality for a time. The knowledge these “elect” have of the real thing flows from their heart-centered knowledge of God’s Word. It is the Word of Christ that teaches them about the reality of Christ, thereby inoculating them against the damnable lie of Satan. Consider John 10:3-5, which tells us that Jesus’ sheep (his people, the “elect”) hear his voice as he calls them by name to lead them out: “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:4-5). Or consider also Psalm 119:11: Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you.” It is the heart-centered adherence to the Word of God that protects Jesus’ sheep against the deceptive and deadly predations of the satanic wolf.
I’ll move toward a close by briefly mentioning one way I’ve encountered Satan’s work to deceive, his magician’s sleight of hand, his forger’s touch, just in the last few days. On Tuesday I received an email from the principal of my daughter’s high school announcing an upcoming presentation during all freshmen physical education classes. The anticipated event, put on by the Santa Cruz Diversity Center, will cover “an introduction to gender diversity, supporting friends and peers, as well as resources in the community.” That kind of language, in this part of the country, in 2019, should raise warning flags for anyone who holds to a biblical ethic of sexuality and gender. Not surprisingly, after doing some online research into the Santa Cruz Diversity Center, I discovered an organization committed to what Al Mohler describes as the “sexual revolution.” The Diversity Center’s mission is to “…advocate for, support, and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community…”. It exists to “advance the causes and priorities of the lesbian and gay community in Santa Cruz County,” to “[advance] social justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning individuals and their allies in Santa Cruz County, California.” In short, the Center exists to normalize that which is antithetical to God; that which offends his holiness; that which our Creator says leads only to pain, destruction, and suffering. And it will do so by taking that agenda into a public high school under the innocuous sounding banner of “an introduction to gender diversity, supporting friends and peers, as well as resources in the community.” This is darkness masquerading as light. It is Satan’s slight-of-hand to distract attention with what looks good while he wreaks utter destruction. Oh, may the elect of God stand fast in God’s Word and not be deceived!
I have one final point to make, and it’s an important one in light of my last paragraph. The final point is simply this: Those people who work Satan’s deception – even willingly and culpably – are not to be attacked, hated, or ostracized, but loved, prayed for, pursued, and pitied. The personnel of the Santa Cruz Diversity Center are not my enemies. Satan is. The people who will accomplish this assembly are sinners who need a Savior, just like I need a Savior. They are folks who need to know the beauty of their Creator and hear the liberating news of the Gospel. They need to come out of the shadows and into the light. I share with them a common history of rebellion against God (think of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:11), and I have a message of salvation they desperately need to hear. It’s time to leave the chintzy magic show and enjoy winsome reality.