The resurrection is not good news to everyone. To the vast kingdom of darkness, ruled over by Satan, prince of this world, to his spiritual minions, and to those human beings who knowingly or unknowingly are citizens of his realm, it is a total, horrifying, and cataclysmic disaster. It is the authentication of God’s sovereignty, the assurance of his ultimate judgment, and the guarantee of doom for all who reject the crown rights of his Son, whose declarations “All authority is given unto me in heaven and earth” and “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world” the resurrection ratified.

Nor is the resurrection a pleasing myth, expressive of man’s genius for inventing stories and symbols of his expanding spirituality, his ever-upward, self-generated mobility from cave man to superman. It is, rather, a bloody and terrible battle won, a victory over malignant and conscious forces that dominate this world system, over “the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil” (Eph. 6:12, Phillips).

Little wonder, then, that the concentrated intelligence and power of the kingdom of this world, under Satan’s lordship, have, both before the event and after it, devised distractions and demurrers to dim the light of literal truth that shines about this fact of history.

One of the most direct efforts to repel God’s invasion of death’s kingdom was that entrusted to Pilate. The chief priests and Pharisees came to him and said, “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again”; and they besought Pilate to authorize a guard at the tomb to prevent trickery. “Ye have a watch,” said Pilate. “Go your way, make it as sure as ye can.”

Men have at many times and many places raised wrathful faces and tiny fists against the purposes of the Eternal God, but no instance exhibits so absurd (and—Milton was right about evil—so laughable) a contrast between the contending powers as this. Three verses later in the account of Matthew we read, “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men” (Matt. 28:2, 3).

“Make it as sure as ye can,” he had said; and they did. But it is not recorded that the angel of the Lord, intent upon the wonder and glory of his mission, even noticed the small deterrent they had confidently provided.

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Although the combined efforts of the Roman governor of Judea and the forces of established religion in Jerusalem were no more than a fly to be brushed away, yet the futility of their attempt suggests no ineptitude or stupidity in Satan’s age-old battle against the kingdom of God. His tools in Jerusalem were not of the best. Pilate acted in a kind of uncaring compliance, and the leaders of organized religion acted in ignorance darkened by malice. Satan probably expected little from either one, for his subtlety surpasses that of any man, and his knowledge of the issues is learned from ageless experience and from access to the very throne of God (Job 1:16). His campaign to discredit God’s redemptive plan is as old as Eden and as many-faceted as his own majestic intelligence.

A full comprehension of the depth of the malevolence and subtlety of his campaign must await a heavenly revelation; but Scripture and history give us a number of hints. For one thing, we know that Satan’s methods often hinge on the diversionary effect of prearranged imitation. True, he has on occasion moved his servants to cry out a direct defiance of God; but the daring required for this is found in few men (deliberate and total blasphemy runs counter to man’s God-given sense of reverence, a sense remaining in rudimentary form in all people), and Satan cannot guarantee his servants immunity from the punishment instantly inflicted on Herod Agrippa I at Caesarea in A.D. 44 (Acts 12). No; misdirection, imitation, and the confusion of counsel by many words are much more effective than overt rebellion. After all, man is born bearing his fatal infection about him, and all that is necessary is to distract and divert him until he is no more capable than J. Alfred Prufrock of confronting the “great question.” Men are more disposed to believe that they are pawns than that they are gods; cosmic rebels are hard to find.

Satan has, therefore, from the dawn of history prepared, in anticipation of God’s unfolding plan, a great fraud, an intricate imitation, of the kingdom of Christ in all its social, political, and religious dimensions. He has spawned gods, customs, rites, rituals, customs, philosophies, symbols, myths, casting them abroad over the face of the earth, overlapping, changing names, permeating with fiction the fabric of the truth, causing men and women in this age to conclude that “there is no single truth, but rather a panorama of all peoples in all times and places reaching out to go as they see him,” and providing for the last days a religious-political structure into which the whole unregenerate world can be fitted, under the then-to-be-revealed infernal trinity.

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Here is no footling Pilate, saying, “Take a few men and do the best you can.” Here is the work of the master infernal architect, extending over the millennia, from Babel-Babylon (the source, under Nimrod, of the first organized human effort to set up a system, a kingdom, in defiance of God), down to this moment, when such celebrations as Christmas and Easter are so swamped under the trappings of the world system that the heavenly one is dimmed for most celebrants.

Everyone, of course, knows that Christian festivals in many instances incorporate elements of pagan festivals, in accordance with efforts of the Church (post-fifth century) to sooth the sensibilities of pious pagans when confronting them with the Christian message. Everyone knows, for example, that whenever Christ was born, it was not in the wintertime, when we celebrate the event. The Christian festival was set for January 6 in the East because it was then that the sun-god was celebrated, and in the West for December 25 because of the winter solstice and the celebration of the Persian sun-god Mithras; the mingling of the pagan with the Christian is as apparent in the day’s origins as in its contemporary festivities. (Let it be underscored, however, that it is no part of the purpose of these words to deplore the celebration of Christmas and Easter in true Christian faith. If even the meat sacrificed to idols may be eaten to the glory of God, with a caution as to the effect this might have on the weak [1 Cor. 8:1–13], we may with a whole heart rejoice in the celebration of the nativity and the resurrection—even though the latter is commonly called “Easter.”)

Any desk dictionary will give, as the near-origin of the word “Easter,” Old English eastre, German Ostern, and will tell us it is the name of a goddess. But one must look a little further to realize that the more distant etymology takes us back to Chaldean Astarte, Hebrew Ashteroth, and Assyrian Ishtar. The same dictionary will tell us that the goddess named Astarte is akin to the Latin name for the goddess of the dawn, Aurora.

But a bit more study will reveal many suggestive and diversionary ideas ranging out from the fact—among them that the son of this “bringer of light to gods and men” was Phosphor, the bright and morning star. We often miss something of the drama of Scripture through ignorance of the details of the great and unceasing battle between Satan and our Lord, as when Jesus declares, “I am the bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16), attesting to the world that any other is an imitation.

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One may look at random at other accompaniments of our celebration of the resurrection—perhaps at the hot-cross buns we may have for breakfast. We find that standard dictionaries take us back only to the Middle English bunne, and even Webster’s Unabridged adds only the Gaelic bun. Some sources note: “Orig. uncertain.” But a little more study reveals (as, for example, in that old but still valuable book, Bryant’s Mythology) that such cakes, offered to the Queen of Heaven (Assyrian Ishtar), were called “boun”—and one’s mind goes to Jeremiah: “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven …” (7:18). And in 44:19 the prophet describes the women of Israel making cakes “for bearing her [Ishtar’s] image,” probably a symbolic image in the form of a star, simplified in the form of a cross.

The origin of another popular trapping, the Easter egg, is easy to find but hard to unravel. Sufficient to note here that in one of the stories connected with it a great egg was said to have fallen from heaven into the Euphrates River (Satan began his organized obfuscation at Babylon), and from it was hatched Astarte (Ishtar). (A thousand transmogrifications later, William Butler Yeats, student and off-and-on practitioner of the “old religion,” and a predicter of a new occult age, explicates his poem “Leda and the Swan” by saying we must recall that “they showed in a Spartan temple, strung up to the roof as a holy relic, an unhatched egg of hers [Leda’s]; and that from one of her eggs came Love, and from the other War.” One is reminded that common in pagan myth, in various forms, is the story of incarnation, of the impingement of the divine upon the human, as in the descent of Zeus, in the form of a swan, upon Leda.)

One might, too, turn to the pagan origins of Lent, seeing how the practice of brief Christian fasting as a self-discipline and as an aid to concentration of all one’s faculties on the worship and adoration of God was transformed into the required forty days of mourning over the capture of Proserpine, or the weeping over the death of Tammuz (which Ezekiel [8:14], to his horror, saw being practiced by the women of Israel), preceding the celebration of the resurrection of that god (Egyptian Osiris, Syrian Adonis, Canaanite Baal), standing for the victory of springtime life over the death-grip of winter. And it is instructive to remember that his sister-mother-spouse, Ianna (Ishtar), descended into the underworld, where Tammuz “harrowed hell,” weeping for her beloved in ways attributed in later lore to Mary, mourning for Christ during his descent into Sheol.

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Once one has begun to study the intricate artifice of Satan’s before-the-event preparations to mythologize and thus discredit God’s mighty and historical victory over death in the resurrection of his Son, he finds himself on the edge of a great and dark forest, only a tiny part of which (so far as I am aware) has been explored in print. The reader unconvinced by the chips of fragments mentioned in these few lines is encouraged to undertake his own research. Among other things, he will learn that a knowledge of God and of at least the outline of his redemptive purpose is an ancient heritage among men. We become so bemused by purely imaginative pictures of primal man as a low-browed semi-ape sitting before an open fire, gnawing the bone of a mammoth, that we forget the depth of wisdom and knowledge actually possessed by the ancient world. Surely, and at least, the promise that a saviour, the seed of the woman, should come and crush the head of the serpent (and let the inquiring reader search that figure through ancient myth) and be grievously wounded in the act was known to all men, and would have been preserved from generation to generation of the pastoral (pre-Babylonian) patriarchs, whose lengthened days provided for the overlapping and continuity of knowledge. The plays and byplays in pagan myth on this great theme alone infuse masses of ancient pagan religions that were old by the time Greek and Roman “mystery” religions appeared on the scene. The rediscovery of those religions is an essential part of the current revival of Satanism, and the effort to explain away the uniqueness of God’s redemptive act in the resurrection has long been standard fare in the writings of those religious anthropologists who find Christianity only one segment of ancient lore, a segment that only the uninformed see as unique to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Schooled in a strict tradition
of evenly positioned
high/low notes, governed by definite rules,
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Jonah’s song had
few grace notes.
Wrath set the rhythm
all the way down
his short scale
with no room for change
once the pattern was set.
Is it any wonder, then,
he failed to understand
and grumbled at
the Musician’s
last-minute reorchestration?

Satan has not only a deep knowledge of “the times” but also a wonderful sense of timing. Having in modern history sent several generations to darkness over a period of some two and a half centuries by using “rationalism” to convince men that he does not exist, he seems now to be moving to another stage of his campaign, reviving open interest in his occult system and in his own personality, in a day when science itself is no longer sure that man can even imagine the true nature of the universe. Satan knows about those things that shall come upon the earth, though not perfectly; and he has great wrath, for he knows he has but a short time. To foresee and forestall the future is his great desire, and it is no mystery that augury has always been at the heart of the occult.

When that day comes when the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit is removed from the earth, and “when that Wicked One will appear” (2 Thess. 2:7, 8), Satan’s millennia of planning will ensure that the earth is not bereft of religion. It will be easy for the apostate church to continue to celebrate Easter with little outward change, and with only a few explanations to convince the masses that the ancient rituals of the “old religion” are the real truth, the story of Jesus of Nazareth being only a momentary and aberrant accretion, now, in a world come of age, to be purged from the minds of intelligent men.

God commissioned an angel with a countenance like lightning to flick away the guard Pilate had authorized and to open the door of the grave whence his Son rose triumphant. But the risen Lord himself shall lead the final assault on the kingdom of darkness and on all its principalities and powers in the farthest reaches of the universe. And that Wicked One shall the Lord “consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming” (2 Thess. 2:8).

How poignantly tragic, how redolent of all the melancholy and hopelessness of paganism, are Pilate’s words: “Make it as sure as ye can.”

George M. Marsden is associate professor of history at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has the Ph.D. (Yale University) and has written “The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience.”

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