“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among you.” – Matthew 18:20
In one of many profound insights into Scripture in his Psychological Significance of the Bible lecture series, Dr. Jordan Peterson connects a startling chain of thought with his consideration of the serpent’s identity in the Garden of Eden. Satan is never explicitly mentioned in the Garden, so, Dr. Peterson asks, why does Judeo-Christian tradition connect the most subtle beast of the field with our greatest adversary, the author of all evil?
He claims that the Genesis account is so dense with meaning, so inherently true, that within its few verses is an archetypal story that is grounded in our very biology, our physical reality. Specifically regarding the connection drawn between the serpent and Satan, his reasoning is as follows: snakes have long been a primary predator of ours. Human beings are biologically adept at visually identifying snake-like objects very quickly, allowing us to avoid predators in our attempt to survive. Created in God’s image, however, we are greater than the beasts of the field. As conscious beings with a concept of time, we have the ability to contemplate the existence of future snakes, venture out to find their nests, and rid the surrounding area of possible predators. With the removal of the future snakes, we soon realize that there are people with predatory natures that can harm us just as viciously. Walls are built and a guard kept around the stronghold to keep out the human snakes. Yet, snakes are inside the walls as well, for a friend can betray and prey upon you with even more devastating effect than the enemies and snakes outside. Finally, one comes to the realization that there is a snake to be found within you: you can betray yourself. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15, ESV) There is a self-ish voice within you that whispers the same temptations he spoke at the beginning of time, a snake disguised as the self who is in fact our ultimate predator.
Therein does Dr. Peterson find the basis for the Judeo-Christian connection between the snake in the Genesis account and Satan. From this line of reasoning we glean a profound truth put forth to us in the Scriptural account of the Fall: the snake that presents the proposition of sin to Eve is identified as the author of all evil who introduced it into this world. Further, this snake can be found within ourselves, for it is in our sinful desires of the self that Satan does his work, turning us inward and away from God.
Fast forward to the book of Revelation and consider for a moment. I recently attended a sermon in which the pastor remarked how the devil is always imitating and demonically parodying the Divine. He pointed out a great example of this in Revelation chapter 13. We see the dragon in a perverted role of God the Father giving his authority to a beast, subsequently described as an imitation Christ with its healed mortal wound and crowns, worshiped by the world. A second beast is then “allowed to give breathe to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak…” (Rev. 13:15, ESV) In this second beast and its image we see a mockery of both the Holy Spirit and the image of God: ourselves.
The passage ends with the infamous “mark of the beast.” “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” (Rev. 13:18, ESV) Without falling into the heretical snare of numerology, let those with understanding call for wisdom, calculate, and consider: If 6 be the number of man, formed from the dust of the earth on the sixth day of Creation, could 666 be simply an impotent mockery of the Trinity? Could the mark of the beast be but the inward worship of the self that is the root of all sin? Rather than fulfilling one’s potential as the Imago Dei, denying and ultimately sacrificing the self for His glory, could those who are of the world be placing the serpent’s stamp of approval on their very hearts with every yielding to their hearts’ selfish desires? Rather than a gathering of two or three in His presence, is not the marked worship of me, myself, and I but an ouroboros, a beastly, lonely, sin-filled devouring of the self? He who has ears to hear, let him hear.