And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents.…
— Mark 16:17,18
In the remote back hills of some states, there are religious groups who literally “take up serpents” as a part of their church services. These groups have taken Jesus’ words in Mark 16:17 and 18 literally, where He said, “And these signs shall follow them that believe…they shall take up serpents….” Based on this scripture, these people have concluded that Jesus was actually ordering believers to “take up serpents” as a way to demonstrate the strength of their faith!
Back behind the pulpit and next to the wall in these churches are cages that contain rattlesnakes and other poisonous snakes. At a preappointed moment in the church service, the cages are popped open, the snakes are brought out, and those who are daring enough pass those serpents from one person to the next. But is this what Jesus was talking about when he said believers would “take up serpents”? Of course not!
Let’s consider the times in which Jesus uttered these words. Then we can better see how these words of Jesus apply to us today.
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The word “serpents” is the Greek word ophis, which was used to depict snakes. Snakes were considered to be dangerous and life-threatening creatures. People were especially afraid of snakes because the road system at this time was very much undeveloped. This meant people often had to blaze their own trail to get to some cities or remote places. Hiding in the rocks or grasses were dangerous and poisonous snakes that frequently bit travelers, causing premature death. These snakes were a concern to all travelers, especially to those traveling by foot.
In Luke 10:19, Jesus said, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” When Jesus uttered these words to His disciples, it was right after He had commanded them to go into the harvest fields of the world to reap the souls of men (see Luke 10:2-11). This verse was Jesus’ supernatural guarantee that when they went to preach, they would have divine protection against serpents, scorpions, and anything else the enemy might try to use to stop or hurt them. This is why Jesus concluded by saying, “…nothing shall by any means hurt you.”
But notice that in addition to serpents, Jesus also mentioned scorpions! The scorpions in the Middle East were extremely feared because they were loaded with deadly poison. One sting from the tail of such a scorpion, and a person could be permanently paralyzed or even killed. When people took journeys by foot, the prospect of encountering a scorpion was just as scary as the thought of snakes. Scorpions hid in the rocks and in the ruts in the road. Therefore, sitting on the wrong rock or accidentally stepping on the wrong spot in the road could result in disaster.
Jesus’ promise to His disciples that they would “tread upon serpents and scorpions” was very important! The word “tread” is the Greek word pateo, which simply means to walk. Jesus was telling them that even if they walked right over a scorpion or snake, they didn’t need to worry because He was giving them special, supernatural protection against these natural dangers. This was a specific promise of protection for those who would be journeying long distances or through rough terrain to preach the Gospel!
To make sure the concerns of all travelers were completely covered, Jesus added, “…and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” The word “hurt” is the Greek word adikeo, which means to suffer injustice or to suffer some kind of wrong or wrongdoing. This was the Lord’s promise that we need not fear injustice or wrongdoing when we have been sent into His harvest field. In fact, the Greek uses a triple negative in this phrase. It literally says, “…and nothing (first negative), no (second negative), by no means (third negative) will injure or harm you.” Jesus said this in the strongest terms available to assure followers that if they go into the whole world to preach the Gospel, they will be divinely guarded from all forms of evil.
Now let’s go back to where we began today in Mark 16:17,18. Jesus said, “These signs will follow them that believe…they shall take up serpents….” What did this mean to the disciples, and how does it apply to you and me today?
For the disciples, it meant they were divinely guarded by the power of God. This divine protection was so powerful that even if they were to be bitten by a deadly snake or a highly venomous scorpion, it would have no effect on them. An example of this can be found in Acts 28:3-6 when the apostle Paul was bitten by a deadly viper. Paul simply shook off the snake into the fire and went away unharmed (see June 25).
You see, Jesus gave His disciples supernatural protection because He was sending them to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Things that would normally injure or kill others would have no effect on them whatsoever. Since they were required to walk by foot through dangerous and rough terrain, this was a very important promise!
What does this have to do with you and me? First of all, it has nothing to do with passing rattlesnakes around a congregation! Although believers who do this may be sincere, they are sincerely wrong. This is foolishness and presumption. Jesus never intended for us to deliberately endanger ourselves!
But if we go in Jesus’ name to carry the Gospel to parts of the world that are considered to be unsafe, it does mean that God’s power will protect us! We may not deal with serpents and scorpions like the early believers did, but there may be times when we are required to fly on rickety airplanes, drive on dangerous roads, pass through highly volatile areas, or work in regions that are considered dangerous.
But as noted earlier (see July 7), this divine protection is activated in those of us who believe that God’s promise of protection will work for us. Whenever we enter dangerous territory in fear, doubt, and unbelief, we are likely to get in trouble. But if we will go believing and claiming that God’s protection is ours and that the enemy can’t do anything to hurt us, our faith in this promise will activate it and cause it to be manifested in our lives!
The bottom line is this: Before we ever take a mission trip, move to the mission field, or go anywhere considered dangerous for the sake of the Gospel, we need to make certain that we believe and actively claim the divine promise contained in this verse!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I believe Your Word to be true! By faith, I claim that there is nothing the enemy can do to injure or hurt me when I am traveling to take Your name to a new part of the world or to people who do not know You. Thank You for this promise of divine protection for my life! I am so grateful that You have shielded me with Your power and that the enemy cannot destroy me.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that God’s power shields and protects me from every attack of the enemy! If I am required to fly on rickety airplanes, drive on dangerous roads, pass through highly volatile areas, or work in regions that are considered dangerous, I will be safe. Regardless of the conditions I am forced to face in order to take the name of Jesus to people who have never heard, God will be with me. He will protect me every step of the way. I believe and claim God’s protection; therefore, the enemy cannot do anything to hurt me!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Can you think of examples when people whom you personally know were supernaturally protected by the power of God — in other words, when something catastrophic happened but had no effect on them?
2. If you know of someone who was hurt on a mission trip, do you know if that person was in faith for that trip? Was he actively believing and claiming divine protection, or did he just get up and go without first making the trip a matter of fervent prayer?
3. In light of what you have learned today, how will you change your approach to the trips on which the Lord sends you to share the Gospel with others?