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The Devil Comes to Steal, Kill, and Destroy—and What This Says about False Teaching

Photo of Daniel McCoyDaniel McCoy | Bio

Daniel McCoy

Daniel is happily married to Susanna, and they have 3 daughters and 2 sons. He is the editorial director for Renew.org as well as an online adjunct instructor for Ozark Christian College. He has a bachelor’s in theology (Ozark Christian College), master of arts in apologetics (Veritas International University), and PhD in theology (North-West University, South Africa). He is the general editor of the Popular Handbook of World Religions, author of Mirage: 5 Things People Want From God That Don't Exist, and co-author with Norman Geisler of The Atheist's Fatal Flaw.

One of the clues that something is evil is that it’s not very creative. Instead, it takes what’s been created and seeks to destroy it.

The Bible teaches that the Devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy. From the early pages of Genesis to the final chapters of Revelation, he’s attempting to take good things created by God and either steal them (e.g., snatching people from God), kill them (e.g., enticing humans toward self-harm), or destroy them (e.g., destroying churches through persecution). False spiritual teaching is dangerous because it follows the same game plan.

Let’s explore how the Devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

First, who exactly is the thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy?

The phrase “steal, kill, and destroy” comes from John 10, where Jesus gives a couple of his “I am” statements: “I am the gate” (i.e., the way to salvation; John 10:9) and “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). He contrasts himself with the “thief” who wants to steal the sheep, and the “hired hand” who runs away at the first sign of a wolf. It is in this context that Jesus explains, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).


“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”


It’s natural to read that verse and assume that Jesus is talking about the Devil (“enemy, slanderer”), or Satan (“adversary”). After all, stealing, killing, and destroying are precisely what this angel-turned enemy of God is up to throughout the Bible, as we will see. However, as Craig Keener helpfully points out, the context of John 10:10 suggests that Jesus is talking more specifically about false spiritual teachers. Religious teachers opposing Jesus are the antagonists of John 9, as well as the group he is addressing in John 10 (verse 1). John 10 has strong similarities with Ezekiel 34, where God calls himself Israel’s shepherd and warns them against false religious teachers.

This strongly suggests that there will be the following hallmarks of false spiritual teaching: It will seek to steal, kill, and destroy, following the pattern set forth by the Devil.

The Devil Comes to Steal, Kill, and Destroy

The obvious way in Scripture that the Devil tries to steal is stealing people away from God. By planting mistrust about God, the serpent was able to steal Eve’s trust away from God. The result of Eve and Adam’s sin was humanity’s defection from living under God’s authority to being resentful residents of “the dominion of darkness” (Col. 1:13). Like a kidnapper luring a child away from his parents, the Devil “leads the whole world astray” (Rev. 12:9).

So as not to lose the people he has stolen, he attempts to snatch away the Word of God from the person who hears it, like a bird eating up seed before it’s able to sprout (Matt. 13:19). And when somebody switches allegiance, Satan attempts to “snatch them out of my hand,” although thankfully Jesus says this doesn’t won’t happen for the people who “listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).


“He attempts to snatch away the Word of God from the person who hears it.”


In the same way, false spiritual teaching can steal people away from God. Even within the church, teachers can emerge who “distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). The apostle Paul explained this as why the elders he appointed in the city of Ephesus must shepherd the church well, protecting it from the wolves (Acts 20:28-29).

Another less obvious way that Satan and false spiritual teachers steal is through stealing God’s truth and perverting it (Acts 13:10; Jude 1:4). Our enemy is no creator; he’s a plagiarizer. Satan famously quoted from Psalm 91 to Jesus in such a way that, if Jesus had followed his twisted interpretation, would have thwarted Jesus’ mission. In the book of Revelation, one of the dragon’s puppets, the beast of the sea, poses as a false messiah. “It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon” (Rev. 13:11).

The Devil Comes to Steal, Kill, and Destroy

The Devil and his demons are obsessed with death. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” His lies cause death and destruction: “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

This drive to kill shows up in demon possession, which can compel people to hurt themselves. One example would be the boy whose demonic possession caused him to fall into the fire or water (Matt. 17:15). Another example:

“Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones….The demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’ He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” (Mark 5:5)

The Devil is described as being behind some of the sicknesses Jesus healed (Luke 13:16; Acts 10:38), the unspeakable tragedies that befell Job (Job 1-2), and the killings of persecuted Christians (Rev. 13:11-17). He is even described as “hold[ing] the power of death” (Heb. 2:14).


“Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.”


False spiritual teaching also has a track record of death, going back millennia. One way the god Molech was worshiped was through child sacrifice (Lev. 20:1-5). King Manasseh of the Southern Kingdom of Judah “bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them,” “practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists,” and he also famously sacrificed his own son in fire (2 Kings 21:1-6). Romans 1 describes how a society that rejects God for idol worship spirals into depravity and derangement: “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice” (Rom. 1:29).

This is a pattern we see in destructive ideas in general: Behind manmade atrocities, you’ll often be able to detect a lie made in hell. Psychiatrist Victor Frankl, himself a Holocaust survivor, reflected,

The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment—or, as the Nazi liked to say, of “Blood and Soil.” I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.[2]

Something very sinister lurks behind societal beliefs which dehumanize groups of people and disparage life-giving gifts such as marriage and childbirth. The same can be said for the self-hating whispers many people regularly tell themselves.

The Devil Comes to Steal, Kill, and Destroy

When given opportunity, the Devil destroys everything he touches. Consider Job, who loses his children, his health, and his property. This compulsion to destroy comes into full focus in the Gospels, where the Devil tries at every turn to destroy Jesus. Revelation 12 gives heaven’s view of the Christmas story, where a dragon “stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born” (Rev. 12:4). One way this plays out on earth is through a jealous king who hears a newborn king has been born: “Herod…gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (Matt. 2:16).


“A dragon ‘stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.'”


Attempts to destroy Jesus continue throughout the Gospels, as Pharisees (Matt. 12:14), chief priests (Matt. 27:20), Herodians (Mark 3:6), and teachers of the law (Luke 19:47) plot to try to kill him. Satan also tries more subtle ways to take him down, even acting through his disciples. Satan enters Judas Iscariot who then takes action to turn Jesus over to the authorities (Luke 22:3). Even Peter is a pawn for a moment, as he tries to reassure Jesus that Jesus would not need to go to the cross (Matt. 16:23), to which Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan.”

Unsurprisingly, Satan tries to destroy the church Jesus created. After the male child escaped the dragon’s wrath, the dragon was enraged and “went off to wage war against the rest of [the woman’s] offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (Rev. 12:17). Sometimes Satan was able to block the spread of the gospel in particular places (1 Thess. 2:18).


“The dragon was enraged and ‘went off to wage war against…those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.'”


False spiritual teaching is also predictably destructive. A metaphor Paul uses for false teaching is gangrene, which causes the death and decomposition of a region of the body when blood circulation is cut off from it. It’s a good metaphor for false spiritual teaching because it is destructive—and it spreads (2 Tim. 2:17-18). The apostle Peter describes those who misuse Scripture, particularly the writings of Paul: “ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).

Making What Steals, Kills, and Destroys into a Virtue

As we have seen, the Devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy. These are also the kinds of results we find coming from false spiritual teaching, which the Devil and demons inspire (i.e., what Paul calls “things taught by demons” in 1 Timothy 4:1).

If I were a demon living elsewhere in the world, modern Western culture would seem to me to have arrived at an enviable milestone. Whereas previous cultural moments have prevailed in tempting people to do bad things, we in the West have progressed to where we are officially calling obviously wonderful things evil and obviously evil things wonderful. People have always veered toward seeing evil as good in the moment, but our culture has progressed to the point of enshrining a “transvaluation of all values” (the subtitle to Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Will to Power) as the new moral orthodoxy we must abide by.


“People have always veered toward seeing evil as good in the moment, but our culture has progressed to the point of enshrining a ‘transvaluation of all values.'”


Now, hang on. Doesn’t that sound a bit dramatic? I don’t think it is. Here are some very real examples of a trickle-down transvaluation from Western elites into popular culture:

  • Objective truth – a fantasy created by powerful people to maintain power
  • Biblical morality – a set of outdated, repressive, and destructive instructions
  • Monogamous marriage – an institution which domesticates women as property
  • Chastity – an unrealistic, harmful, and bland restriction of sexuality which benefits domineering, heterosexual men
  • Christian evangelism/missions – a form of spiritual imperialism
  • Sanctity of human life – a way for religious people to colonize women’s bodies

Objective truth, biblical morality, monogamous marriage—each one of these help people flourish in countless ways. Yet each one of them, in modern Western culture, are being labeled as poison.

This is because the Devil is a taker, not a maker. He takes what is good and mislabels it. He makes us cynical toward the things which help us and save us.


“The Devil is a taker, not a maker.”


When Paul and Barnabas were telling people about Jesus on the island of Paphos, a sorcerer named Elymas kept trying to dissuade people from listening to them. Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, exclaimed to him, “Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10). That is the Devil’s modus operandi. And no, he will never stop, until Jesus returns and finally destroys the destroyer for good (Rev. 20:10).

Both the Devil and false spiritual teachers masquerade as messengers of light (2 Cor. 11:13-15). They plagiarize and mesmerize and tyrannize. They steal, kill, and destroy.

This is why we must make the following truth a core conviction:

“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:16-17a)


[1] Vicor E. Frankl, From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy, translated from the German by Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Vintage Books, 1986), xxix.