During the last few years of his life, Herbert W. Armstrong spent a great deal of time teaching God’s Church about the history of the Garden of Eden. Church members accepted that God was leading Mr. Armstrong, so it is only logical to think they also believed God was inspiring His apostle to concentrate on this subject. You would think most people appreciated Mr. Armstrong’s messages on the Genesis account of the two trees.
In fact, many people in the Church grew tired of the subject! A spirit of disdain and rebellion began to arise within them whenever Mr. Armstrong spoke on Genesis and the two trees. Some even accused Mr. Armstrong of going senile.
“Does it mean anything to you?” Mr. Armstrong asked Church members in his 1981 Atonement sermon. “Or is it, ‘Ah I wish that Armstrong’d just quit hammering back, going back to Genesis again. There he is back to those, again.’”
It’s important we understand where this spirit of accusation and rebellion against this subject originated. Notice Revelation 12:10: “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” Satan the devil is the accuser of the brethren and of God’s government.
Is there any doubt the devil was behind the scoffing against Mr. Armstrong when he spoke on Genesis and the two trees?
No one hates this subject more than Satan. Why does he hate this knowledge so deeply? Because what happened in the Garden of Eden exposes the devil and his plan!
Genesis reveals how Satan kidnapped the world. What happened in the Garden of Eden provides critical insight into the mind and operation of our adversary. Satan knows that when a person understands this history, he is able, with God’s power and direction, to break the devil’s grip and escape. To Satan, no thought is more terrifying than losing his grip on mankind. Satan is terrified of the subject of Genesis and the two trees and will stop at nothing to keep this knowledge from the eyes and minds of men!
I love Mr. Armstrong’s uncompromising response to the naysayers: “You betcha! I’ll go back to [Genesis and the two trees] again and again and again! I want to get you into the Kingdom of God with me!” Mr. Armstrong was trying to show God’s people that focusing on the two trees is essential to making it into the Kingdom of God. He said we need to go back to this subject “again and again and again.”
So let’s review Genesis 3 and the two trees, this time with a focus on what this history reveals about our adversary, Satan the devil.
Satan’s Grand Strategy
In a sentence, can you describe Satan’s grand strategy for deceiving and destroying mankind?
We know the devil’s supreme goal: To seize God’s throne, destroy the incredible human potential, and shatter the God Family plan. We are aware of many of his tactics: the way he spreads lies and deceits, how he exploits man’s lust of the flesh and broadcasts through negative emotions, moods and attitudes. But Satan has a grand plan, a well-crafted strategy, in which he employs various tactics in pursuit of his goal. This strategy is as simple as it is deadly.
You and I must know what this strategy is if we are to avoid becoming victims of it.
Take your Bible and study Genesis 3. Although God doesn’t give us a detailed account of Adam and Eve’s sin here, the details He does provide, as Mr. Armstrong explained, give a vivid and powerful understanding.
Verse 1 reveals Satan’s subtlety. Notice, he didn’t reveal himself as the powerful and impressive archangel that he was. He probably could have dazzled Eve with his brilliant mind, or with his musical talent or his power to perform miracles. But there was little flash and dazzle. Instead, the devil slid into Eve’s life with a small, seemingly innocuous question: “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Genesis 3:1).
That was it: With one seemingly innocent question—a mere 14 words in English and only 6 in the original Hebrew—Satan the devil hooked Eve! We can learn so much about Satan from this one scripture. First and most obviously, never underestimate the subtlety of Satan. While he can and does work in overt ways, often his deadliest attacks consist of one sentence, one question, one thought. Like his question to Eve, the questions he’ll try to instill in us are loaded with the potential to introduce doubt and criticism, uncertainty and mistrust, and to undermine our faith and confidence.
Eve fell for it: “And the woman said unto the serpent …” (verse 2). Eve engaged the thought, and by doing so engaged the devil. In many respects, this is the most pivotal moment of this account. This was the moment mankind engaged with the devil. Satan was thrilled and believed that it would only get easier from here. Eve’s answer to Satan in verses 2-3 is noteworthy. It shows that Adam and Eve clearly understood God’s instructions about the two trees. Consider Eve’s confidence: Oh, that’s easy, she seemed to think, God told us this, this and this. In Eve’s mind, there was no confusion, no doubt and no questions. She had accepted God’s truth and was at peace. Then Satan started talking. With Eve engaged, he could now get to work employing his grand strategy. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (verses 4-5).
This was the extent of Satan’s conversation with Eve after his short introductory question. The devil didn’t need much time or many words. With this brief exchange, Satan was able to deceive Eve and set about taking mankind captive. How did he do it? He uses the same methods today.
First, Satan criticized God and His plan. He undermined God’s supreme authority. He told Eve, God doesn’t want you to eat from this tree because He knows when you do, you will become like Him.
The devil deceived Eve into thinking that God was selfish and sinister, and that He hid truth from them. In essence, Satan convinced Eve that the true God is in fact more like the devil—a wicked, selfish liar whose sole purpose is self-aggrandizement and self-love.
If God is the devil in Satan’s message, then who is god? He is! Again, look at what happened here. Satan sold himself to Eve as the ultimate authority on creation, the two trees and human existence. He convinced Eve that he had all the answers. He persuaded Eve that he had mankind’s interests at heart. Satan acts like he is the selfless supreme power and authority.
Satan waxed eloquent on the subject of the two trees also. He told Eve that the fruit from his tree would impart wisdom and enlightenment. He declared to Eve that his tree would impart eternal life, and that the tree of life would bring unhappiness and death. It’s not hard to see what happened here: Satan convinced Eve that he was God, and that the tree of death was in fact the tree of LIFE.
In a sentence, this is the devil’s supreme strategy: Satan sells himself as God!
All Satan’s subtle lies, devious devices, tactical operations, influences and emotions fall under this single strategy: to convince man that he actually is God. It’s simple, but it’s incredibly effective and utterly deadly. Human beings fall for it over and over and over. Even God’s own people are vulnerable if they are not vigilant and relying on the power of God to recognize and overcome Satan.
The Most Successful Strategy of All Time
The Bible is full of examples of Satan successfully employing this strategy to attack and destroy God’s plan.
Remember Nimrod? He was the son of Cush, and Noah’s grandson. The Bible identifies Nimrod as a leading figure in the post-Flood world. Throughout Mesopotamia he built multiple cities, including Babylon, and was responsible for establishing the post-Flood system of government, culture and religion.
God gives a biographical sketch of Nimrod in Genesis 10:8-9: “And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.” If you study the Hebrew, the term translated “before the Lord” means in place of God, or as god.
Mr. Armstrong explained this too, writing, “before … means he set himself ahead of God and before God and as if he were greater and mightier than God and made himself the ruler over men” (The World Tomorrow, May 7, 1979). Doesn’t that sound familiar? Just as he usurped God before Eve, Satan inspired his man Nimrod to establish himself as God before the people.
This is one of the defining differences between a righteous leader led by the true God and a Satan-led tyrant. A righteous leader recognizes God’s existence. He honors God the Father as the supreme authority, submits himself to God, and follows God’s instructions. He points his followers to God. A Satan-led tyrant rejects God. He either blatantly or subtly rejects God’s laws, direction and input. He sets himself in the place of God, and like Satan, he sells himself as God.
Satan employed this same strategy with another key historical figure. Simon Magus was a first-century religious leader of the Samarians, the people who populated the land adjacent north of Judea. The Bible has a lot to say about Simon Magus and his contact with the true Church in Acts 8. He was a powerful individual who had a vice-like grip on the minds of his people.
Just as with Nimrod, God gives us a biographical sketch of Simon Magus: “But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed … saying, This man is the great power of God” (verses 9-10). Like Satan in the Garden of Eden, Simon Magus sold himself as “some great one,” as the supreme religious authority. He sold himself as God!
Acts 8 and other biblical passages, as well as the history of Christianity, prove that Simon Magus was responsible for establishing a great false Christianity, as Mr. Armstrong explained in Mystery of the Ages. Simon Magus took many of the pagan practices of Samaria and blended them with doctrines he had heard preached by the true Church (specifically the apostles Peter and John) to create what would quickly become the Catholic religion. Even today, that religion follows the practices of Simon Magus, and its leader rules in the place of Christ as if he were Christ!
Again, we see the same old strategy!
Antiochus Epiphanes was the tyrannical leader of the Greek empire in the second century b.c. Editor in chief Gerald Flurry has shown from Daniel 8 and other passages how the Bible discusses three end-time types of Antiochus: the leader of the reviving Holy Roman Empire, the leader of the Laodicean revolt inside God’s true Church, and the end-time leader of America, biblical Manasseh.
Just as with Nimrod and Simon Magus, God gives a biographical sketch of Antiochus Epiphanes: “And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up. And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people. And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand” (Daniel 8:23-25).
This self-absorbed individual is transfixed by his own personality and perceived greatness: He sees himself as God!
The Living Bible says: “His power shall be mighty, but it will be satanic strength and not his own. … So great will he fancy himself to be that he will even take on the Prince of Princes in battle ….” Imagine that! Antiochus Epiphanes—typed by three end-time individuals on the scene today—is so confident in his power and position, he thinks he’s capable of destroying Jesus Christ!
Why does he believe this? Because he’s been inspired by the devil to think of himself as God! It’s the same strategy.
Notice that Antiochus magnifies himself, and then by flattering, peaceful promises, he destroys. You could use this same terminology to describe Satan’s working through the snake in the Garden of Eden. First, Satan magnified himself, establishing himself as the supreme authority: “Ye shall not surely die.” Next, he destroyed through flattery: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
The parallels between the way this Antiochus operates and the way the devil operated in the Garden of Eden are striking. But should this be surprising? Not when you understand that it is the same mind, the same spirit, and the same strategy! It’s the devil foisting himself off as God, again and again and again.
When you think about it deeply, this is both remarkable and inspiring: All three end-time Antiochus types are living, breathing proof of the existence of Satan the devil and his grand strategy for deceiving mankind!
Antiochus in Israel
In his booklet America Under Attack, Mr. Flurry used this quote by reporter Michael Hastings: “But that’s the presence of Obama, even on the press corps—even on the people who follow him every day. When they’re near him, they lose their minds sometimes. They start behaving in ways that are juvenile, and amateurish, and they swoon.” This man carries himself as God, and many people look to him as a supreme authority.
On Election Day in 2008, Mr. Obama proclaimed, “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow, and our planet began to heal.” He would heal the Earth? He was on the Nov. 22, 2010, cover of Newsweek, with the emblazoned caption, God of All Things, and again, Jan. 18, 2013, The Second Coming! Millions of people see this man as a god!
A well-known Hollywood actor called Barack Obama “our lord and savior”! A Florida University professor, Barbara A. Taylor, wrote about Obama as “Apostle Barack” sent by God to create a political heaven on Earth. According to the professor, God spoke to her through a dream, “Then, as I began to contemplate ways to assist Barack in his 2012 re-election bid, something miraculous happened. I felt God’s (His) Spirit beckoning me in my dreams at night. Listening, cautiously, I learned that Jesus walked the Earth to create a more civilized society, Martin (Luther King) walked the Earth to create a more justified society, but, Apostle Barack, the name he was called in my dreams, would walk the Earth to create a more equalized society, for the middle class and working poor” (Barbara A. Thompson, The Gospel According to Apostle Barack).
msnbc’s Chris Matthews said to Felix Gillette of the New York Observer, “I’ve never seen anything like this. This is bigger than Kennedy, [Obama] comes along, and he seems to have the answers. This is the New Testament” (New York Observer, Feb. 6, 2008).
It’s the Garden of Eden all over again: Barack Obama has sold himself as the supreme, infallible authority! In reality, like Satan in the Garden of Eden, Mr. Obama’s supreme ambition is destruction—of America, of the Jewish state, and of Anglo-Saxon civilization, which God Himself blessed! (For proof, study The United States and Britain in Prophecy.) Of the three end-time Antiochus types, the one who is yet to be fully manifested is the man who leads the Catholic-dominated, European beast power. But whoever he is, one thing is for certain: Like Antiochus anciently, and like his contemporary counterparts, he is going to behave as if he is God! Under Satan’s inspiration, he’ll be foisting himself off as a supreme and infallible authority, a divine figure that deserves mankind’s worship.
Antiochus in Spiritual Israel
Of the three end-time Antiochus types, the most successful thus far is the spiritual Antiochus, responsible for widespread destruction in God’s Church. The level of spiritual devastation inflicted by this man is unparalleled in history. (This is explained in Mr. Flurry’s seminal book, Malachi’s Message.) How did this man wreak such devastation? Once again, God reveals the answer in a short but profound biographical sketch of this individual.
You can read it in 2 Thessalonians 2, a chapter that explains the end-time Laodicean rebellion. Verses 3-4 discuss this end-time spiritual Antiochus: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.”
Like Nimrod, Simon Magus, Antiochus Epiphanes and Satan himself, this man believes and behaves as if he is God!
Here we are almost 6,000 years after the Garden of Eden, and Satan is employing exactly the same strategy with as much success as he had with Eve. No wonder he hated Mr. Armstrong talking about the Garden of Eden so much! God, by inspiring Mr. Armstrong to analyze this pivotal encounter in the Garden of Eden, was exposing Satan and his grand strategy—and showing the Church how to conquer the devil!
God was trying to prepare the Church spiritually for what would happen after Mr. Armstrong died. But many people scoffed at Mr. Armstrong when he spoke about Genesis and the two trees.
Like Satan in the garden, this spiritual Antiochus didn’t openly proclaim himself as God. But that’s what his words and actions imply. When the “man of sin” relentlessly overturned Church doctrines established by Christ, without any scriptural backing, was he not acting like he was God? When he spoke against God’s law, making such claims as the Sabbath was not God’s day and that the people could keep Sunday, was he not selling the tree of death as the tree of life? Yet 95 percent of God’s people swallowed the lie, just like Adam and Eve!
A huge part of Eve’s sin was that she didn’t hold fast to the truth of God. She allowed the truth to be questioned and criticized. She didn’t really love it and protect it. The Laodiceans made exactly the same mistake. 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11 shows that because God’s people didn’t hold fast to “the love of the truth” they were led to “believe a lie”. That scripture is more accurately rendered “believe the lie.” What is this grand lie? Mr. Flurry answers in Who Is “That Prophet”?: “It should read ‘the lie,’ because it’s coming from the liar, Satan’s man. ‘The lie’ is Satan foisting himself off as God. At the very least, the Laodiceans don’t see the devil for who he is.”
Just like Eve and the rest of mankind, the Laodiceans are now victims of Satan’s grand strategy!
God’s Word warns us repeatedly of the principle of the two trees, specifically that we must hold tight to the truth and be wary of Satan and his agents masquerading as God and the true way of life.
Matthew 7:15 reads, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” The Apostle Paul, too, warned of false preachers: “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. … For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:3, 13-14). Like Mr. Armstrong, Paul was genuinely concerned for God’s people and could see they were vulnerable just “as the serpent beguiled Eve.”
This is Satan’s supreme strategy. Its importance cannot be overemphasized: He sells himself as God, he peddles his thoughts, his actions, his ways, his reasoning, as God’s.
Make It Personal
We’ve seen instances of Satan’s grand strategy at work both in this world and in God’s Church. But we need to take this personally. Can you recognize when Satan is selling himself as God to you? He does it constantly! God gives us the history of the Garden of Eden for an important reason. He wants to arm us spiritually. He wants us to use this knowledge to conquer the devil. The Laodiceans couldn’t see this, even though Mr. Armstrong warned them powerfully. Can you?
We need to make sure that what happened with Eve in the Garden of Eden, and then Nimrod, Simon Magus, Joseph Tkach and Barack Obama, is informing the way we interact with this world. When we deal with others in our jobs, at school, during recreation, with friends and acquaintances, schoolmates or colleagues, we must be ever mindful of Satan’s grand strategy. Satan is constantly selling evil as fun, wrong as right and wickedness as righteousness.
Satan is constantly trying to sell you the tree of death by making it appear as the tree of life!
This strategy manifests itself every day in many little ways. Husbands, how easy it is for indecision in the home to supplant intelligent leadership. Wives, how easy it is to view leadership of the marriage and home as a need (if I didn’t do it, no one would); for bossiness to parade as intelligent opinion; for selfish desire to be presented as an emotional or physical need. In child rearing, how easy it is for compromise to masquerade as compassion; for silence as wisdom.
If the motive is selfish, then in each case the tree of death is posing as the tree of life!
Young people, this applies to you, too. Do you realize that the fun, carefree, Hollywood lifestyle your peers seemingly enjoy is a giant lie? Young men, do you see that the pretty girl flirting with you is actually an enticement Satan the devil is using to get you to eat of the fruit of his tree? Teenage girls, can you see how tight clothes, colorful make-up and flirtatious behavior is actually the tree of death masquerading as the tree of life? Learn from Eve! Don’t put physical appearance and carnal appeal before the truth of God.
The Laodiceans rejected God’s instruction on Genesis and the two trees given to His Church through Mr. Armstrong. As a result of their rejection of this truth, they are now worshiping the devil! We cannot make the same mistake. God gives us this history so we know how to avoid repeating it!
Armed with the knowledge about Satan’s grand strategy, we must go on the offensive against it. How? By eating from the tree of life. If Adam and Eve had eaten from that tree, God would have given them His Holy Spirit. With God’s power, they could have seen the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for what it was—the tree of death—and Satan the devil for who he really is: “a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).
Adam and Eve, like nearly all of humanity, are victims of Satan’s grand strategy. Today only a tiny fraction of people recognize Satan’s strategy. You are one of the few! Let’s give the glory and credit to God, thank Him for the power of His Holy Spirit, for the will to overcome the devil, and for the rich, profound truth embodied in Genesis and the two trees as explained by Mr. Armstrong.