Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate.  Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach.  For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.


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Gospel Tract #36

Gods of the Gentiles

by John David Clark, Sr.

"The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God."
1Corinthians 10:20

Modern man is so proud of his scientific knowledge that he regards the myths of the classical world as having no more basis in reality than a cartoon, but this generation's contempt for previous ones may be based on more fiction than are the myths of ancient civilizations.

It is doubtful that any modern construction crew could build the pyramids or match Julius Caesar's feat of building, in ten days, a bridge forty feet wide across the Rhine River, a quarter of a mile across at that point, and strong enough for an entire army to cross. An ancient citadel stands on a mountain in South America made of rock molten together after its construction — a feat which modern scientists have tried and failed to duplicate. With cleverly fashioned instruments, ancient physicians performed delicate eye surgery, brain surgery, and even what is known now as plastic surgery, building new ears and noses.

The impression left upon the person who studies the classical world with an open mind is one of great respect and deep pity, respect for the amazing accomplishments they managed to achieve in virtually every field, and pity that so much of their efforts were wasted on superstition. In terms of both wealth and human life, the cost of their ignorance of the true God was enormous, and that ignorance prevented them from making even more advances in the arts and sciences than they did achieve.

The ancient Aztecs provide us with one example of needless suffering. It has been estimated by scholars that the Aztecs sacrificed an average of fifty-four human beings a day to their blood-thirsty sun god (Eerdman's Handbook to the World's Religions, p. 54. 1994 ed.), for they believed that their sun god required human blood in order for him to continue moving across the sky. Therefore, to keep the sun going, they needed a constant supply of sacrificial victims. Often, the victim's heart was cut out while he or she was still living!

In order to maintain a supply of victims, wars had to be waged and prisoners taken; so, war was a necessary tool of this religion. Imagine the centuries of constant, useless terror and agony inflicted on innocent people because of that single wrong idea about God! Now, multiply that horror by ten thousand times and spread the pain and loss over the face of the whole earth, and the enormous cost of man's wrong ideas about God begins to be revealed.

For another example, imagine how much suffering among the poor of earth could have been alleviated by using the fortunes that were buried with the dead in ancient cultures! Immense wealth was often put in the grave with the corpse of the wealthy, for them to use in the next world, while the miseries of the poor in this world continued.

There is nothing that has caused more misery in human history than wrong ideas about God. Indeed, the origin of all human suffering was the wrong idea about God that Satan planted in Eve's mind in the garden of Eden. But modern cultures can be as superstitious as were ancient cultures; wrong ideas about our Creator are not a hallmark of ancient civilizations alone.

Because It Was Real

In the Bible, there are examples of soothsayers and witches who had real spiritual power. The most stunning example is that of the Egyptian magicians of Moses' time. They performed miraculous deeds which for a time matched the miracles which Moses and Aaron performed by the power of God! There is also the witch of Endor in 1Samuel 28, who had power to communicate with the dead. And there is the demon-possessed young girl in Acts 16, who made her owners wealthy with her supernatural knowledge. In spite of what many "enlightened" people now believe, such supernatural events did take place. Ancient people were deceived by them, not because such spiritual power was phony, but because it was real!

The devil is a real creature, as are the fallen angels. They are not theological inventions of man. They once stood before God in heaven but were cast out when they rebelled against God (2Pet. 2:4). Having been in heaven, they know God far better than ordinary humans know God, and they have supernatural powers. They can reveal things to persons they possess, and they can perform feats of superhuman strength through humans, as did the demon-possessed man whom Jesus healed at Gadara (Mk. 5:1-5).

Ancient people had their superstitions, but they were not stupid, and we should give more credence to some of their myths than most people in our time are inclined to do. Over a century ago, a German named Heinrich Schliemann dared to think that way. He was ridiculed by "experts", but his confidence in certain elements of ancient mythology proved to be well founded. Schliemann believed that the ancient city of Troy had been a real place (remember the Trojan Horse?), and with tremendous determination, he ventured out on his own to search for the ruins of that city. Using geographic information from Homer's Iliad as his principle guide, he astonished the scholarly world by discovering the ruins of a once-great city in the northwest corner of Asia Minor — exactly where Homer had said Troy was located!

Of course, many ancient myths were fabricated. We know, for instance, that Atlas is not holding the world on his shoulders and that Poseidon does not drive his chariot across the seas. But ancient man's colorful imagination does not make untrue the fact that there were men of old, possessed by demons, who could, for example, lift and throw stones much larger than ordinary men could throw, as Homer describes Hector doing during the battle for the Greek ships at Troy. The possessed man out of whom Jesus cast a "legion" of demons exhibited similar astonishing strength. The Bible also mentions men before the flood who were of giant stature, "mighty men which were of old, men of renown" (Gen. 6:4). Because of the depths of evil to which men had fallen in those times, it is easy to imagine some of them performing superhuman feats, and then, those stories being told and retold until they were corrupted to become the mythological stories of ancient Greece, Rome, and other cultures. Still, we can see through the layers of myth and acknowledge the germ of truth which no doubt lay at the root of some of those stories.

The young slave girl in Acts 16 who followed Paul and his friends around the city was empowered by a demon to reveal secrets and predict the future, but when Paul cast out that demon, she could no longer predict anything. For that, Paul and Silas were beaten and cast into prison (Acts 16:19-23). In Greece, when the ancients went to the famous oracle of Apollo at Delphi or to the other oracles of that world, it is altogether believable that when they went to the oracle, supernatural events sometimes took place. We know, for one example, that when backslidden King Saul went to a witch for help, he received even more help than he bargained for (1Sam. 28).

It is inconceivable that ancient people, intelligent as they were, would have continued making pilgrimages to oracles if it never benefitted them. If nothing supernatural ever happened, they would have known it. But there is ample evidence that supernatural events often did occur in those "holy" places of the gods, twisting man's view of God and, therefore, preventing the good life which ancient intelligence could have produced.

The "gods" were Demons

Repeatedly, the Bible states that what the Gentiles worshiped were actually demons (Lev. 17:5-7; Dt. 32:12-18; 2Chron. 11:13-16; Ps. 106:34- 38; 1Cor. 10:18-22), but neither the Gentiles nor idolatrous Israelites believed that, and they persecuted and sometimes killed those who dared tell them the truth. Men called their gods (demons) by lovely names such as Saturn, Venus, Apollo, Aphrodite, and they invented elaborate ceremonies and mythic stories about them. Ancient people were dedicated to the service of the gods and prayed to them in expectation of supernatural help. All the evidence points to the fact that sometimes those demons fulfilled human expectations and gave a prophecy, or revealed a secret, or gave someone supernatural strength. To receive that "help", one needed only to do as Satan wanted Jesus to do in the Temptation: "Bow down and worship me."

When Jesus neared demon-possessed people, the demons would often declare truth, such as, "We know who you are, O holy one of Israel!" (Mk. 1:23- 24), and sometimes, they would beg him, "Don't torment me!" (Mk. 5:7). Sometimes they would even speak of the coming Judgment, asking Jesus (Mt. 8:29), "Are you come to torment us before the time?" The demon-possessed girl whom Paul delivered irritated Paul by following him through the streets of Philippi, screaming, "These men are the servants of the most high God, who show us the way of salvation!" (Acts 16:16-17). Those demonic voices, crying out bits of truth through possessed people, were the voices of the gods of the ancient world, and ancient people loved them!

Where Are They Now?

If demons inspired ancient people to proclaim the holiness of God and the certainty of judgment to come, why, then, should we think it strange that demons continue to do so?

Paul said that Satan has transformed himself into "an angel of light" and that Satan's "ministers have transformed themselves into ministers of righteousness" (2Cor. 11:14-15). So, ministers of Satan now masquerade as servants of God. But they have always done so. In the ancient world, who were Satan's ministers? Were they not the priests and priestesses of the gods? Was not the high priest of Jove (chief god of the Greeks and Romans) Satan's supreme minister? Were not the ancient false prophets and poets demon-possessed ministers of Satan, who yielded their bodies to the Muses for inspiration, or who called on the lyre-playing Apollo, or shrewd Athena, or any of the other gods? Regardless of what the Gentiles thought they were worshiping, God's ministers knew they were worshiping demons, not God.

The official title of the high priest of Jove (Latin pronunciation: Yahweh), was Pontifex Maximus. It was a coveted political prize granted to men by the senate of Rome. It was the world's highest religious position, first held by nobles such as Julius Caesar and, later, by the emperors of Rome. If there ever was a man who was a "minister of Satan", then Pontifex Maximus was he, being the chief priest of the Empire's highest ranking demon.

If Satan's ministers have transformed themselves into apostles of Christ, as Paul said, then where is Pontifex Maximus now? Where has that chief minister of Satan gone? Find him, and you'll find a man claiming to represent God and to be the shepherd of all His sheep. Find Pontifex Maximus, and you'll hear someone moved by demons to speak well of God and His Son, and perhaps even to warn people of the coming Judgment. Find him, and as in ancient times, you'll find multitudes following him, worshiping demons in beautiful, if not magnificent settings, "thinking to do God a service" (Jn. 16:2). Find Pontifex Maximus today, and you'll hear the "doctrines of devils" about which Paul warned the saints. Where is he and his fellow ministers, and by what name do they now disguise themselves? You tell me.

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