Kings and Beasts: Sin Makes Us Monstrous

I once heard a pastor describe his family’s weekly Saturday dinners. During these Lord’s Day preparation feasts, they would dedicate time to teaching their children and (later) grandchildren about God and what he had done for them (Ex. 12:26-27, cf. Mark 10:14, 1 John 2:12). Every week he asks, “Kids, what is the point of the whole Bible?” to which they respond with high pitched glee, “Kill the dragon, save the girl!”

There are more sophisticated biblical summaries but explaining complex ideas to children can be clarifying. The Bible tells us that the story of history is the story of Jesus, the dragon slayer who rescues his bride. But Christ revealed a critical key to biblical interpretation. “[A]ll the Scriptures” also point to his victory through suffering unto glory (Luke 24:25-27).[1] The grand story is about Christ; and also, the many stories that make up the grand narrative are each about him too.

Over the course of three parts we will explore the biblical theme of the kingdom of God and his war to subdue every beast.

In the beginning of the biblical narrative, we see these themes in embryonic form, but every critical biblical theme is rooted in Gen. 1-3. Adam was created to be the earthly king under God, the High King. Adam was given dominion by God over all the creatures—the birds, the livestock, the fish, and the “beasts of the field.” Central to Adam’s task was to guard the Garden sanctuary and tend to its care (Gen. 2:15). Being fruitful with his bride, Eve—the mother of all the living—they were to cultivate the earth and fill it with God’s image (Gen. 1:28).

Understood in the most natural sense, the biblical narrative shows humanity as God’s stewards of creation. Humanity is the height of the natural order, the architects of the world’s cultivation. The lion may be the “king of the jungle,” but God made man the king of all such earthly “kings.” Humanity has authority over all the lower creatures. Adam, not God, names them (Gen. 2:19). But the notion of reigning over “beasts” immediately takes on broader, spiritual implications than merely learning to raise sheep.

Humanity is the height of the natural order, the architects of the world’s cultivation. The lion may be the “king of the jungle,” but God made man the king of all such earthly “kings.”

Satan is the great beast. Adam is told to rule the beasts and defend the Garden and then meets the Adversary under the guise of a serpent—one of the “beasts of the field” (Gen. 3:1). John calls him “the great dragon, that ancient serpent [and] the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). Peter says he roams around “like a roaring lion” looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8).  Satan is a beast and sin is bestial as well. God warns Cain that “sin is crouching at the door,” like a predator lying in wait, but he “must rule over it” (Gen. 4:7). When men fall into sin, it is as if they are “lured and enticed” (Jas. 1:14). Humanity must rule over beasts and sin’s “beastly” impulses, standing firm in the face of demonic temptation. Failing to do so shapes us into beastly images.

All of us are made as an “image”—a living icon. Worship is what shapes us as images. God forbade his people from worshipping him using images and icons (Ex. 20:4-5). It was not that God forbade the creation of any image, but that no image could be used as a tool to reach God; as a focal point of their worship.[2] Humans are the living image of God and respect for God is reflected by how we respect other humans who are that image (Gen. 9:6). As those made in the image of God, obedience to God is what causes us to reflect God’s nature and character. When we put off evil deeds—“sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry”—we are “renewed in knowledge after the image of [our] creator” (Col. 3:5, 10).

When Cain bowed to his sinful desires, he became a predator lying in wait, killing Abel unexpectedly (Gen. 4:8). When Jacob saw Joseph’s coat, bloodied by his brothers seeking to cover up their crime, he cries out, “A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces” (Gen. 37:33). He didn’t realize it was his children who were the fierce animals like Cain before them. David fought bears and lions as a shepherd, only to later face Goliath—a warrior of the great Serpent—covered in serpentine scales (1 Sam. 17:5).[3] Satan is a serpent and his children are a “brood of vipers” (John 8:44, Matt. 3:7), wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). They “devour widows’ houses,” slaughter toddlers, and serve the sheep on platters during their demonic feasts (Mark 12:40, Matt. 2:16-18, Matt. 14:8-11). Servants of Satan appear as “angels of the light” (2 Cor. 11:14-15). False prophets look “like a lamb” but speak “like a dragon” (Rev. 13:11). Instead of being glorified more fully God’s image as God intends, sin makes us draconic.

Satan’s chief lie is that bowing to him will grant us the true power to rule.

Satan’s chief lie is that bowing to him will grant us the true power to rule. Solomon prays for the ability to “discern between good and evil” in order to rule over God’s people (1 Kings 3:9). King David was said to be like “an angel of God to discern good and evil” (2 Sam. 14:17). The “knowledge of good and evil” is the wisdom to rule as a king. The beginning of true wisdom is the fear of the Lord, which is to say the wisdom to rule can only be found in a right relationship with God. 

Satan holds out to Adam and Eve the power to rule by rejecting God and seizing wisdom from the forbidden tree. Satan offers the same temptation to Jesus (Luke 4:5-7). In the Garden, earth’s king relinquished his scepter to a demon and Satan became “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30). The first Adam plunged us all into the grave, shackled us in slavery to sin, by submitting to the serpent (Rom. 5:12). The first Adam’s sin caused the first bride—the mother of all the living—to become the mother of the living dead (Gen. 3:20 cf. Eph. 2:1, Col. 2:13).

But the “last Adam” is the warrior king who frees us from death, rescues us from the “domain of darkness and transfer[s] us into the kingdom of [the] beloved Son” (1 Cor. 15:45, Col. 1:13). When the Spirit comes upon us, he makes us a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) and transforms us into the image of the resurrected Christ “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18 NASB). In Christ we find true wisdom, being “transformed by the renewal of [our] mind,” now able “to discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Saved by the light of the world, we become the light to the world. Saved by the Commander of the armies of the Lord (1 Sam. 17:45), the demons are now forced to learn our names (Acts 19:15).

In obedience to sin, we become helpers fit for Satan, shaped into his image. By the work of the Spirit, we become the bride of Christ—helpers made fit for God. In the next installment, we will consider how God makes his people a nation of priests, whereas sin makes nations into ravenous beasts.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, I am using the English Standard Version.

[2] Understanding the second commandment in context requires that we consider God’s other commands. A flat reading might suggest that no images of any kind could ever be created, yet God instructed them to shape golden cherubim as guardian statues in the holy of holies (Ex. 25:18) and the tabernacle and temple were decorated with images of palm trees and other earthly creatures (1 Kings 6:32, 35). God commands Moses to craft a “bronze serpent” (Num. 21, see footnote 3). It isn’t that no images could ever be created, but that no image of any created thing could ever be used as God’s image, for the people to “bow down” and “worship/serve.”

[3] The Hebrew word for bronze (neḥsheṯ) mail is related to the word serpent (nāḥāsh). The bronze mail armor of Goliath is an allusion to the serpent, with his armor like a snakes scales. Moses’ bronze serpent is “nehash nehoshet” – a Hebrew alliteration and play on words (Num. 21:9).


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