We have seen that Satan is the present ruler and god of this world. As the deceiver of humanity, Satan became deeply involved in religion early in human history. He deceives mankind by counterfeiting and corrupting the teachings of God.
Did the apostles encounter a perverted gospel, corrupted versions of the teachings of Christ?
"I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-7).
"But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed" (2 Peter 2:1-2).
What was Paul's response to anyone who taught a different gospel?
"But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8-9).
Paul condemned anyone who would preach a different gospel from the one taught by him, the other apostles and Jesus Christ. Though Paul does not give details of this distorted teaching, we see tell from later developments ways in which the message of Christ began to be corrupted.
Who was responsible for the false teachings?
"Now I am afraid that, as the serpent in his cunning seduced Eve, your thoughts may be corrupted and you may lose your single hearted devotion to Christ. For if some newcomer proclaims another Jesus . . . or a gospel different from the gospel you have already accepted, you put up with that well enough" (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, Revised English Version).
"For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works" (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Paul asked the elders from the church at Ephesus to meet with him (Acts 20:17) shortly before his arrest in Jerusalem for preaching the gospel. He warned the elders: "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock . . . to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:28-30).
A growing number of false teachers were causing people to desert the teaching of Paul and the other apostles. These people taught their own nonscriptural ideas. Paul wrote: "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18).
Did Jesus Christ foresee this problem?
"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:13-15).
Jesus knew false teachers would arise who would distort His teachings even as they claimed to represent Him. Such teachers steadily gained a larger following. They became the many, and, as Jesus had predicted, the faithful were, in comparison, the few.
It wasn't long until a counterfeit Christianity, teaching a corrupted gospel radically different from that of Christ and His apostles, grew into a religious movement. Notice a modern historian's description of the result of the doctrinal changes in early centuries: "Contemplate the Christian Church at the beginning of the fourth century, therefore, and some difficulty will be experienced in recognizing in her the community of Apostolic times, or rather, we shall not be able to recognize it at all" (Charles Guignebert, The Early History of Christianity, 1927, p.122, emphasis added).
In less than three centuries the visible church that called itself Christian was no longer recognizable as the church founded by Christ and the apostles. At times those who refused to accept false doctrines and a corrupted gospel could no longer openly reveal their identity without risking persecution and death.
To this day, erroneous notions about the gospels and doctrines of Christ abound under the banner of Christianity. Paul's warning still applies: "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).
When will the satanic deception stop?
"Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years" (Revelation 20:1-2).
Immediately after Christ returns, God will bind Satan. For the succeeding 1,000 years he will be restrained from influencing human affairs, ending his rule of confusion and deception as "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4). The stage will then be set for a new Ruler over the earth, Jesus Christ.