Lou: I was fascinated by your reference to ancient mystery religions that seem to have closely counterfeited the Christian faith. How popular were these?
Graham: The mystery religions were very popular throughout the New Testament era and for some time thereafter. They were so popular that some people joined several of them, just to be on the safe side, like the altar to the “Unknown God” in Athens. They counterfeited and confused the issues both before and after Jesus came. One of my teachers at the University of Chicago, Dr. Harold Rideout Willoughby, was a real expert on the mystery religions, so we heard a lot about them. He wrote a long Ph.D. dissertation on rebirth in paganism called “Pagan Regeneration.” Many of the ideas in the mystery religions are very close to the truth, and yet they are diabolically perverse. That’s why I came to the conclusion that the Devil really tried to counterfeit the first coming of Christ. But he failed with many back then, and he has learned from his failures. With his final, ultimate cunning, he will counterfeit the Second Coming as far as he can.
Lou: You used the phrase “mystery religions.” Didn’t Paul himself speak of Christianity as “the mystery of godliness”? 1 Tim 3:16.
Graham: Yes. That’s right. I think he was using that language on purpose. It was not that God deliberately kept the truth a secret. Circumstances did not allow Him to reveal it all (see John 16:12). But one of the major differences between the mystery religions and Christianity was this: When you were initiated into one of the mysteries, you were sworn never to tell anybody. Whereas, the Christian “mystery” was to be told to everybody. So Paul loved calling Christianity a mystery and then telling everybody everything about it. So what we have in the New Testament is a “revealed mystery.” Paul’s hearers would understand that, and would be rather struck with the contrast. We have the most important information in the universe and, instead of keeping it to ourselves, we want to tell everybody. The followers of the mystery religions were not allowed to tell; it’s amazing that we know anything about them at all.
Lou: But was the Greek word that Paul used the same word?
Graham: Yes, musterion. The English word “mystery” comes from it.
Lou: As you talked about this matter of Satan’s final effort to deceive, I wondered if you expect that we are going to see direct devil worship before the end of time, the kinds of things we tend to associate with other places on earth?
Graham: I don’t think so, especially among the Christian nations. Satan wants to be worshiped, but not as the Devil; he wants to be worshiped as Christ. And so he masquerades as an angel of light at the End. He will be worshiped by humans (Revelation 13:8) the way he wanted to be worshiped by Jesus and the angels. His great moment in history will be when the cry goes forth, “Christ has come! Christ has come!” and the world prostrates itself before him; all except the few who will say, “No, you not only have a devil; you are the Devil.” And you can see why it would go hard for these few.
Lou: That ties in with what you said earlier. He really isn’t anxious to be identified as Satan, he really wants to masquerade as Christ.
Graham: That’s the deception. If he came with horns and a tail, that wouldn’t really fool anyone. Instead, he comes as a gracious redeemer, the great medical missionary. He heals the diseases of the people and even appears to raise the dead. Since people often use miracles to validate their beliefs, Satan will deceive many. He will lie to us the way that older prophet did in 1 Kings 13 (see verse 18). But the way he uses his authority and relies on miracles will warn the faithful.
Lou: When Peter admonishes us to resist Satan (1 Pet 5:8-9), how can one resist such a clever, intelligent, wily foe?
Graham: We can only resist him with the truth. We will have to be so settled into the truth that we cannot be moved.