If the present generation thinks about angels at all, it is in the sense of beautiful winged beings dressed in white. However, the New Testament highlights a totally different perspective on this subject. It refers to angelic usurpers who persistently conspire against God’s will. Paul affirms, ‘For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places’.1
It is true that sometimes ‘principalities’ and ‘powers’ refer to the civil authorities. The Lord Jesus stated to His disciples, ‘Now when they bring you to the … magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer’.2 Paul exhorts Titus to remind the Christians in Crete ’to be subject to rulers and authorities’.3 In both cases the terms refer to civic officials.
However, these terms are used in the Scriptures primarily of supernatural beings who belong to the invisible world. Paul calls them ‘principalities’, beings with cosmic influence. The word itself is ambiguous, for it does not define whether their nature is good or bad. In Ephesians 6, there is no doubt that the reference is to beings that are exceedingly evil.
The apostle also speaks of ‘powers’. He recognizes that these cosmic spirits still exercise a measure of authority over men and women. He names Satan the ‘god of this age’, and ‘the prince of the power of the air’.4 John adds, ‘the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one’.5
Paul employs still another designation for the evil cosmic powers, ‘the rulers of the darkness of this age’, implying that the fallen angels aspire to a total control of the universe. In place of ‘rulers’, other translations use ‘universal lords’, ‘world forces’ and ‘cosmic’ or ‘mighty powers’. Translators do not minimize the fact that Paul is pointing to spirit beings of darkness that seek to rule the world. W. E. Vine notes that these spirit powers, ‘under the permissive will of God, and in consequence of human sin, exercise satanic and therefore antagonistic authority over the world in its present condition of spiritual darkness and alienation from God’.6
The apostle refers to all these evil beings together as the ‘spiritual hosts of wickedness’ whose natural sphere of activities is not the earth but ‘the heavenly places’ or ‘realms’. As sinister intruders, they seek to frustrate God’s good desire to bless human beings with eternal glory.
It is gloriously true that God through Christ defeated and disarmed these principalities and powers at the cross and ‘showed the world that they were powerless’.7 As a result, they were robbed utterly of their authority. Their authority was, in part, linked to ‘the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us’.8 God dealt with the just condemnation against us by Christ’s death for our sins. At the cross, God ‘cancelled the record that contained the charges against us’.9 Through His death and resurrection, God triumphed over the malignant spirit beings that constantly took advantage of our ‘condemnation’ status.
Consequently, the present ‘dominion’ of Satan and his followers has clearly defined limits. These spirits are not ‘free agents’, rather they act only under God’s permissive will.
In view of the constant opposition to God’s will by these ‘principalities’, ‘powers’ and ‘rulers of darkness’, Christians, in the power of God’s Spirit, are to live in the light of Christ’s victory over them at Calvary. We are to stand firm against these angelic usurpers, taking advantage of ‘the whole armour of God’.7
The phrase seems to give the sense that it is God’s own armour that He shares with His people. In other words, it is the Lord’s battle and only in His strength will we prevail. Isaiah writes, ‘The Lord shall go forth like a mighty man; he shall stir up his zeal like a man of war’. He also affirms that ‘He put on right-eousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head’. Under pressure, the psalmist pleads with God, ‘Take hold of shield and buckler, draw out the spear, Say to my soul, “I am your salvation”’.10 The warrior figure is used of God to depict His mighty power to save. ‘The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save.’ In other translations, the ‘Mighty One’ appears as the ‘victorious warrior’ and the ‘hero who saves’.11
Everyone in the empire was familiar with the heavily armed Roman foot soldier. Looking at some of his equipment, Paul links them to truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God and prayer. But perhaps the key term is found in the phrase, ‘Put on the whole armour of God’. All of God’s resources are at the disposal of His children. Paul urges us to ‘be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might’. In the light of the New Testament, it is imperative that we always remember Paul’s clear, dogmatic statement, ‘we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world ‘.12
The ‘whole armour of God’ stands in contrast to ‘the wiles of the devil’. The warlike language accurately describes the struggle between the powers of darkness and the purposes of God. But the military terms must not blind us to the insidious ways these evil spirits invade our lives in the workplace, the home, marriage and even the local church company. So subtly do they attack that we may succumb to their tricks unknowingly. It is not in vain that Paul emphasizes the importance of standing in the atmosphere of truth, holiness, faith, peace and salvation, virtues that are part of what God is, and to be subject to His word and in constant prayer.
In that way, we participate already in the final victory over the evil one. This eternal triumph is evident now every time a Christian stands against Satan’s ‘strategies and tricks’.13 Let us never forget the martyrs who, often, with a vision of victory on their faces, preferred to die before they would deny their Lord. Let us respect the men and women of our generation who have seen the doors close for advancement in the workplace because they would not ‘work’ a lie. Such were protected by God’s armour as they engaged in earnest prayer and refused to yield to the darkness.
While there are many things we do not understand about Satan and his hosts, some facts are absolutely certain: ‘the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil’, and that ‘He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil’.14 These sinister intruders may appear to win a skirmish now and then, but the permanent victory belongs to God. Paul has no doubt about the outcome, for he writes, ‘after the battle you will still be standing firm’.15
1. Ephesians 6. 12; cf. vv. 10-20. Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New King James Version, Copyright 1982 by Thomes Nelson, Inc.
2. Luke 12. 11 f.
3. Titus 3. I f.
4. 2 Corinthians 4, 4; Ephesians 2. 2.
5. 1 John 5. 19.
6. ‘Ruler,’ in W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
7. The Holy Bible, New Century Version, Copyright @ 1987, 1988, 1991 by Word Publishing.
8. Colossions 2. 13-15.
9. Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., copyright 1996.
10. Isaiah 42. 13; 59. 17; Psalm 35. 1 ff.
11. Zephaniah 3. 17; cf. God’s Word and New American Standard Bible.
12. Ephesians 6. 12, New Living Translation.
13. Ephesians 6. 11, New Living Translation.
14. 1 John 3. 8; Hebrews 2. 14.
15. Ephesians 6. 13, New Living Translation.