There’s an old African proverb that says, “When Elephants fight, the grass suffers.” It expresses the important truth that when agents who have a domain of authority go awry, everything under their authority suffers.
The “principalities and the powers” were given tremendous authority over creation. In western Christian culture, these non-human agents are usually called “angels,” though the Bible refers to them also as “gods,” “spirits,” “principalities,” “ powers,” “dominions”, “authorities,” “rulers,” “elemental spirits” and “demons.” These titles reflect different categories of spirit-agents who exercise different levels of “say-so” over creation, society and individuals.. As he did with humans, but on a much larger scale, God empowered these gods to use their “say-so” to administrate his providence throughout the cosmos. Unfortunately, some of these angelic beings chose to instead rebel against God and use their “say-so” at cross-purposes with his will. As a result, all they have authority over suffers, like grass under the feet of elephants.
The earth apparently could have been spared these negative consequences, for humans were given authority over this land and were commissioned to guard it. When we failed in this task, however, the floodgates were opened and the earth and human society was brought under the corruption of these evil, destructive forces.
Perhaps because it upsets our western vacation mindset, or perhaps because our secular outlook has trouble taking things like Satan, angels and demons seriously, American Christians tend to minimize the New Testament’s remarkable teaching about the scope and intensity of Satan’s domination of our planet. If we’re serious about following Jesus, this has got to change.
For starters, consider that Jesus three times refers to Satan as “the ruler” of this world (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11. The term “ruler” (archôn) was used in the first century to denote the highest official in a city or region. In using this term, therefore, Jesus is conceding that Satan is the highest authority over the present world! Paul says the same thing when he refers to Satan as “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the ruler of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). Jesus and Paul of course believe that God ultimately has far more authority than Satan or any other created Power, which is why both are confident that God will win in the end. But in our present fallen cosmos, both concur that Satan exercises the most influence on what comes to pass.
John makes an even more stunning claim about Satan’s influence when he says “the whole world is under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19, emphasis added). If the whole world is under his power, it’s not surprising that Jesus grants Satan’s claim to own and have power over all the kingdoms of the world (Lk 4:5-6). John elsewhere reiterates this truth when he symbolically portrays all governments as belonging to Satan (Rev. 11:15; 13 xxx?) and depicts Satan as possessing the power to deceive all nations.
If you’ve ever wondered why political regimes throughout history have proven incapable of providing lasting solutions to social and global problems or why governments inevitably gravitate toward corruption and violence, we submit that you’ve just found your answer. If Satan is indeed the functioning C.E.O. of all worldly governments, we ought not to be surprised at this.
The remarkable authority of Satan and his rebellious reign is indicated in a number of other ways as well. For example, Satan and his evil regime is depicted as involved in all spiritual blindness (2 Cor 4:4), hindrances in ministry and evangelism (I Thess 2:18), delays in prayer (Dan 10:1-13) and the behavior of certain evil people (Jn 13:2), This rebellious regime is also behind temptation and discouragement (I Tim 3:7; 2 Tim 2:25-26), lies that form “strongholds” in people’s minds (2 Cor 10:3-5), unforgiveness (Eph. 4:26), all spiritual struggles (Eph. 6:12), false and legalistic religious teachings (I Tim 4:1-4) as well as persecutions (Rev. 2:10).
In short, the impression we’re given is that Satan’s corrupting regime is spread throughout the earth and is continually at work to influence us in sinful and destructive ways. Through his expansive rebellious kingdom, Satan is an ever-present thief who continually tries to kill, steal and destroy all the good God wants for us (Jn. 10:10). Or, in the words of Peter, he’s an ever-present hungry lion who seizes every opportunity to prey on us ( I Pet. 5:8-9). And in this light, it’s little wonder that Scripture places so much emphasis on the need for believers to be on their guard and prepared to do battle against this foe.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).
Image by The.Rohit via Flickr