Matthew 24:24 (The False Wonders of Patent Medicine)

On the Mount of Olives after forsaking the temple mount Jesus has warned His disciples repeatedly against false Christs and false prophets who will deceive with false signs and wonders which would appeal to men’s fallen nature for a worldly salvation.  For although such signs offer the promise of fulfilling the lusts of their flesh in violation of God’s laws with impunity, in accordance with the nature of Satan they always end up enslaving them.  Why does the Lord allow such deceitful imposters?  See Deut 13:1-3.  What is it that ultimately distinguishes true signs and wonders from those that are false?  See Rom 15:18-19 and think: is the purpose of the sign to establish the truth of the gospel and point one toward the one true and holy God who alone is able to deliver from the bondage of sin that leads to true salvation?  Consider also Jannes and Jambres, whom tradition identifies as Pharaoh’s magicians who were able to counterfeit the signs Moses was giving, but only to a certain extent: Exo 7:10-13,20-22, 8:6-7,16-19, 9:10-11, 2Ti 3:7-9.  Is it possible that like Jannes and Jambres, those today who oppose God and are well-learned in the secrets of the world could mislead and exploit people with their “secret arts” for the sake of worldly gain?  Notice, quite interestingly, that the Hebrew root used for magicians (hartom) is also used for a money bag or purse (harit); see 2Ki 5:23, Isa 3:22 and cf. Act 8:9-13,18-23[1].  Consider too that a diploma from a college or university indicating successful training to make more money in the world is also called a sheepskin, which is how Jesus warned that false prophets would appear, though inwardly they are ravenous wolves (Mat 7:15).

In what ways have hucksters in our own day used religious chicanery and even sleight-of-hand to exploit people for the sake of sordid gain?  Cf. Tit 1:10-11.  In what way have others used the principles of a secular education to grow their church by applying the latest business model, motivational techniques, or even using their sheepskin to explain away objectionable parts of God’s word and make it more appealing to worldly people?

Beyond religious trickery, in what ways has the increase of knowledge in these last days misled people more generally from looking to God for salvation to a faith in the wonders of modern science for salvation?  Think: How many people have fallen away from the faith because the same science that give them penicillin and an iPhone also “proved” that man evolved from nothing and God does not exist?  How many people now “tithe” to an insurance company for their health and well-being what they used to tithe to God?  Consider especially the “miracle” cures of patent medicine:  In spite of them, do people live any longer today than they did in the time of Moses?  See Psa 90:10.  And how long did Moses himself live?  See Deut 34:7.  Notice also that the Greek word used for magician in the Exodus passages is pharmakos from which is derived our English word pharmacy and pharmaceuticals.  Consider too that the twin-serpent caduceus that is often used as an emblem of modern medicine’s curative powers belonged to the Greek god Hermes, who was the conductor of the dead and protector of merchants and thieves.

 

Also notice that the Staff of Asclepius, which is the more proper emblem of modern medicine, is itself an age-old picture of the serpent’s subtle craft and power that through worldly wisdom is able to counterfeit to an extent God’s own power through false signs and wonders and “science falsely so called” (1Ti 6:20, KJV).   The Bowl of Hygieia, daughter of Asclepius, is a similar symbol for pharmacy.

  

   

A staff is something one leans on for support as he walks in this world, so a staff with a serpent upon it symbolizes the type of wisdom, power and strength that one is leaning upon for support.  It represents all of the power to heal that derives from the serpent’s “wisdom” first promised to Eve; see Genesis 3:1,6 and cf. Mat 10:16, 2Co 11:3.  But although the eyes of the serpent are always open to not miss the wisdom of this world, they are blinded by sin to the wisdom of God that comes from above and completely miss the only source of true healing, which is an obedient faith in God for deliverance from sin; see Exo 15:26, Deut 7:11-15, Psa 91, and cf. Heb 8:6.  See also Isa 30:1-3, 15, 31:1-3, Hos 5:13.  Consider how this is true in regard to the way the world has sought deliverance from the health consequences of obesity or the plague of sexually transmitted diseases, or even cancer and heart disease, in contrast to the way God would deliver them.

In this way the Staff of Asclepius is reminiscent of the serpent and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil where man was first deceived to eat of the forbidden fruit and become like God.  It also reminds us of the staffs of Pharaoh’s magicians Jannes and Jambres that became serpents like the staff of God (Exo 4:20), but that were swallowed up by it (Exo 7:10-12; cf. Dan 2:34-35).  For in the same way is Satan’s worldly wisdom swallowed up by God’s true wisdom that is personified in Christ (cf. Pro 8:1-9:6).

We are especially reminded by the Staff of Asclepius of the brazen serpent Moses was commanded in Num 21:4-9 to set upon a standard in order that all who were bitten by the fiery serpents[2] might look to it and live.  This was a type of Christ Himself who was lifted up so that “whoever believes may in Him have eternal life” (Joh 3:14-15).  Notice though that the serpent on the standard Moses set up does not represent Jesus, but the serpent of old who carries out the curse of the Law as God’s rod of chastisement upon the disobedient, and that was put upon Jesus in order that by His wound we might be healed; see Gen 3:15, Gal 3:13,1Pe 2:24.  The standard (banner, signal, ensign) upon which the serpent was put is what represents Jesus: see Exo 17:15 and cf. 17:9, Isa 11:10,12, 62:10-12 for the same Hebrew word.

In what ways did the faith of the Israelites become misplaced in the brazen serpent Moses lifted up?  See 2Ki 18:4.  How is that similar to the way in which the faith of many today has become misplaced in the Caduceus or Staff of Asclepius that modern medicine has raised up?  In the time of our affliction when we are chastised by the Lord’s rod of correction for our sins as were those Israelites in the wilderness (and who of us is without sin?), are we careful to look with a contrite heart to the cross where the curse of the Law was laid upon the Savior for our sins, and in obedient faith acknowledge and turn from our sins in order that we may find true healing?  Cf. Jam 5:14-16.  Or do we instead look to the Staff of Asclepius and the serpent-inspired wisdom of this world for relief from the symptoms of sin, while refusing to turn from it because in our hearts we love our sin and the wisdom of the world personified in the serpent more than we love God and His Wisdom?

In what way is naturopathic medicine closer in spirit to the spirit of healing we find in Scripture than the spirit behind patent medicine?  Is it possible though that people could still look to naturopathic medicine for relief from the symptoms of sin without looking to Him who is the real deliverer from sin?

1. Simon Magus was believed by the early Church fathers to have been a source of the Gnostic heresies that confronted the Church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

2. The Hebrew term used for “fiery” is seraph which is also used in Isa 6:2,6 for the seraphim, and in Isa 14:29, 30:6 for “flying serpents” which indicate the seraphs had wings and could fly.  The root word for seraph is always used of burning.  Hence the word describes creatures similar to dragons; cf. Rev 12:9.

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