The Venomous Beast
by David Neal
Acts 28:2-6, “And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.”
The serpent always represents the devil in scripture. The devil is venomous because he opposes God and is always trying to hinder God’s purposes. Venom (poison) causes death to those who are infected. The serpent’s venom is transgression against God which always results in death. Adam and Eve encountered the devil, in the form of a serpent, in the Garden of Eden. God had given man a commandment: Genesis 2:17, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
God’s will and the consequence of violating that will were clear. The devil entered the garden and injected his venom. Genesis 3:2-5, “And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 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.”
God said if you eat of the forbidden fruit thou shalt surely die. The devil said if you eat of the forbidden fruit ye shall not surely die. The devil’s lie is opposite of God’s truth. The devil was telling man that he could transgress the will of God and seek his own will and not die (be as a god). Man sought his own will and submitted to the devil (rather than God) and thus brought death into the world. Romans 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Death verified the truth of God’s Word and the lie of the devil’s word (Heb 9:27).
The serpent brought separation between man and God, resulting in death and is therefore a highly venomous beast. Jesus was sent from God to destroy the works of the devil and lead man back to God (1 Jn 3:8). The devil’s works are the rebellion in man resultant from the devil’s lie. Jesus turns us from our iniquities which are resultant from our self-seeking, which is resultant from the venom of the devil’s lie (Acts 3:26), for the purpose of coming back under God’s authority.
Salvation is only found in Christ (Acts 4:12). Jesus turns us from darkness and the power of the devil through repentance (forsaking of our iniquities through tangible evidence) and provides forgiveness of our sins through our faith (obedience, trust, surrender) in Him (Acts 26:18, 20). Therefore, being justified by faith through Christ, we have peace with God (Rm 5:1). The blood of Christ was the antidote (cure, remedy, solution) to the serpent’s venom. We must sincerely “follow” Jesus as He leads us back to God. Romans 5:9-11, “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”
The atonement (the reconciliation of God and mankind through the death of Jesus) Christ provided was recompense (compensation, payment) for our transgressions. Atonement is reconciliation after enmity (hostility, hatred) whereby reparation is made by giving an equivalent for a wrong committed. When one is truly found in Christ Jesus he is given power over devils. Luke 10:19, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” The scorpions are those submitted to the devil in his rebellion against God, such as the fallen angels and fallen man (Ez 2:6). Revelation 12:9, “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”
Notice that if you are “walking” in God’s will then the venom of the serpent will by no means hurt you. Through our submission and obedience to God (and thus forsaking and death to self), the Lord gives us power over the serpent. God defends His own against the venomous beast. Our power is in our weakness to self and brokenness (need, dependence, reliance, trust, confidence, faith) before God (2 Cor 12:9). The serpent’s power lies in our disobedience to God and our self-seeking of the flesh and its lusts. The serpent gains control by separating you from God and making you an enemy of the Lord through your transgressions, iniquity and rebellion.
Jesus also said of His followers: Mark 16:18, “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” True followers are given power over the devil and his poison if they are submitted to God and walking in God’s will. Obviously if you are not surrendered to God and His will then you are in transgression and have already been infected by the poison (rebellion, death). Those that are not submitted to Christ are snared by the devil and are taken captive by him at his will (2 Tim 2:26). You cannot profess Christ and then live for self. This only reveals that you are still in rebellion to God and totally deceived by the serpent’s gaze (hypnotized) – the venom has deluded your comprehension – paralysis is setting in. You can be very religious, yet still be submitted to the devil. You must take your eyes off of the serpent (the things you want, your lusts) and place them on Christ (desire God’s will regardless of your will).
There is a wonderful illustration detailed in an account of the children of Israel as God led them through the wilderness. Numbers 21:5-9, “And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt (representative of idolatry, transgression, iniquity, rebellion and the resulting bondages) into the wilderness so that they could die to self and learn faith (obedience, trust, reliance, dependence) upon the Lord.
The people had no heart for God to learn His ways because their hearts were on themselves and what they desired. Job 21:14, “Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.” Notice, they spake against God and loathed (hated, detested, despised, abhorred, repulsed by) God’s provision of manna (light bread). They were totally unthankful and full of unbelief (opposite of faith) in God’s desire to do them good at thy latter end (Deut 8:16). This people were completely self-centered and submitted (obedient, loyal) to their own flesh (lusts). Therefore, God allowed the devil to infect them with his venom which causes death.
Seeking self (and thereby rejecting God) separates one from God and opens one up to the bite of the serpent. The Lord restrains the serpent for those who seek Him. The people cried out in repentance (most just wanted relief or salvation of their own flesh) and God provided a solution. Moses made a brazen serpent and placed it upon a pole. All those who were bitten by a venomous beast had a choice to make. If one looked upon the brazen serpent (obeyed God) and believed in faith, he would live. If one did not look upon the brazen serpent he would die in his rebellion (disobedience to God). So to live, one must obey and look to God’s provision in faith.
Why a brazen serpent on a pole? This was a foreshadowing of what Christ would later do perfectly. This was an object lesson. John 3:14-15, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Can you see the correlation? Men were bitten of the devil’s lie that suggested you can transgress God’s will and live for self and not die. The poison of this lie worked death. Men were dying in their rebellion to God.
Jesus came to destroy the works (the transgression, self-seeking, iniquity, separation, and rebellion) of the devil. Jesus leads us out of our iniquity and rebellion and back under God’s authority. Christ provided the atonement that made peace with God possible for all who will look upon Him. This means that you must surrender your life to Jesus and all He stood for. John 12:32, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” As Jesus hung on that cross, His free flowing blood was the only remedy for the poison that was killing man. Those who refuse to look upon Christ will die of this poison.
In the opening scriptures Paul is attacked by a venomous serpent (the devil). The residents of the island were sure that Paul would die. Paul shook the beast off into the fire and suffered no harm or consequence. The fire is representative of the lake of fire. This is where the devil and all those he has poisoned with his lie (those who continue in his rebellion) shall be eternally separated from God into torment. Revelation 20:10, “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” The devil will not go unpunished in the end. Isaiah 27:1, “In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” Concerning rebellious man: Revelation 20:14-15, “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
Paul was on a mission to Rome to perform the will of Christ. Acts 23:11, “And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” The devil tried to stop Paul by injecting his venom (literally). The serpent was put into his place (the fire) and God received the glory as Paul tread down the serpent for all to see in being faithful to perform the Lord’s will (Lk 10:19). Paul continued on to Rome and fulfilled God’s purposes. The Lord’s will always prevails and God sustains those who are submitted and obedient to Him as they walk in faith following their Lord Jesus. Romans 8:28, 31, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”
God will restore all things one day. Isaiah 65:25, “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.” Notice the animals are restored to peace and they eat the herb again. But what of the serpent? The serpent is still cursed – it is not restored (Gen 3:14). The serpent will never interfere between God and man again! Praise God. Consider how the serpent’s venom has been neutralized: Isaiah 11:8-9, “And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” The devil is eternally in the lake of fire and the serpent (instrument used of the devil) shall harm no more.