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THEOLOGY > Sin > Reality of Satan > Ruler of this World  


Satan is “the ruler of this world”; three times the designation is made by Jesus in John’s Gospel (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Similar descriptions are used in other references: “the god of this age” (II Cor. 4:4; “the god of this world” in the ESV); “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2); and “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I Jo. 5:19). In Scripture Satan is uniquely related to this world as the ruler or prince of it; in other words, the world is under his influence and power. Of course, at all times his rule is contingent upon and subservient to the rule of God.

As ruler of this world, Satan tempted Jesus and offered the world’s kingdoms to Him:

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:8).

In some sense Satan possesses the kingdoms of the world, but he is also a liar and has no absolute claim to that which he did not create and does not ultimately control. But the temptation does reveal an aspect of truth: Satan is intimately related to the world and its systems, that is, he is constantly working his evil on this earth and, in that sense, is “the god of this world.” In fact, Luke’s account records the declaration of Satan: “To You I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will” (4:6). If indeed it has been delivered to Satan, then it is only for a brief period; and if his statement is literally true, then literally, he is “the ruler of this world.”

To be ruler is to rule; the Greek is archon, a word associated with the idea of “beginning” or “cause,” and from these concepts there developed the ideas of “rule” and “authority.” Satan is both the ruler (archon) of demons (Matt. 12:24; Mk. 3:22; Lu. 11:15) and the ruler (archon) of the world. Not only is the word used of spiritual powers, but it is also used of the rulers of nations (Matt. 20:25; Acts 4:26), rulers of the synagogue and nation of Israel (Matt. 9:18, 23; Lu. 23:13, 35; Acts 3:17), and rulers of cities (Acts 16:19).

Whether spiritual or human, all rulers were created by Christ and for Christ; this is to affirm that Christ is the means by which all rulers exist and the reason they exist:

For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him (Col. 1:16).

Paul is presenting the preeminence of Christ, who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15); He is “before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). Therefore, it follows that He is the Source of all and the End of all—creation is because of Him. In this position and capacity, He is “the head of all rule and authority” (Col. 2:10). So whatever is predicated of the rule of Satan, it is always contingent on Christ and subsumed beneath Him.

A Christological point should be emphasized even in this discussion of Satan. The point is found in the two words, “for Him,” in the above verse, Col. 1:16. The creation of the earth, the creation of Satan, and the relationship of Satan to the earth do not inform fully of the significance of the earth nor of Satan. The meaning of both is in their relationship to Christ; they exist “for Him.” In other words, Christ is the goal of all that has been created; all that is exists for His glory and His praise.

As the ruler of the world Satan has great power, a power that is referred to as “the power of the evil one,” and the Scripture affirms that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I Jo. 5:19). He does nothing good and is the cause of much evil; “the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (I Jo. 3:8). Persistently he is seeking to forward his agenda, one of rebellion and depravity. This world is an evil world, organized by the one who originally opposed God in heaven and was removed from his exalted position by God (see: Sin in Heaven and Fall from Heaven), and a world that is hastening the end of days by its increasing antagonism toward God.

An apt description of the work of Satan on the earth is that “the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (I Jo. 3:8). “Beginning” may denote one of two things: one, since the time of God’s work of creation, he has been sinning; two, since the time of his own creation, he has been sinning. Either interpretation requires that Satan’s rebellion against God was shortly after he came into existence, so his entire existence has been one of evil.

His depraved deeds are unceasing in their quantity and quality. In the book of Job God asks Satan: “From where have you come?” (1:7); he responds: “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” (1:7). With an insatiable appetite for destruction Satan is constantly roaming the earth; Peter explains what he is doing: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Pet. 5:8). Satan’s purpose is not for good, but for evil; he does not build; he devastates. His way is the way of death, not life—there is no salvation, only damnation. And there is no rest in his activity. The Scriptures record many of his activities:

He deceives (Gen. 3:1; II Cor. 11:3; I Tim. 3:6-7; II Tim. 2:26; Rev. 20:10);

He tempts people to sin (Gen. 3:4; Matt. 4:1-11; I Thess. 3:5);

He accuses believers (Job 1:9-11; Rev. 12:10);

He afflicts God’s people with God’s permission (Job. 1:12; 2:7; also see: Lu. 13:16; I Thess. 2:18; Heb. 2:14);

He opposes believers (Zech. 3:1);

He desires worship (Matt. 4:8-9; Rev. 13:4, 12);

He removes the seed of the Gospel and sows tares (Matt. 13:19, 38-39);

He possesses people (Lu. 22:3);

He murders and he lies (Jo. 8:32, 44; II Cor. 11:13-15);

He affects the mind (Jo. 13:2);

He enters into people (Jo. 13:27);

He oppresses (Acts 10:38);

He causes illnesses (Acts 10:38; II Cor. 12:7);

He has power over sinners (Acts 26:18);

He destroys those delivered to him (I Cor. 5:5; I Tim. 1:20);

He hinders believers (I Thess. 2:18);

He gives the ability to perform signs and lying wonders (II Thess. 2:9);

He devours (I Pet. 5:8).

It is obvious that his deeds are specific and damnable; he is the antithesis of God in every sense. He does not seek to accomplish good but evil; he does not speak the Truth but lies; and he does not save but damns—he is “the evil one” (I Jo. 5:19).

But Satan’s power that is manifested in diverse activities is limited, limited by the One who created him. Job had no comprehension of what took place prior to his affliction:

And Yahweh said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of Yahweh (Job 1:12);

And Yahweh said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord (Job 2:6-7).

The loss and suffering that came to Job from Satan came with the permission of God. Before Satan could take from Job or afflict Job personally, he had to acquire authorization from God. Even Satan understands that his authority is derived; to Jesus he said: “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will” (Lu. 4:6). The rule over the world was given to Satan, and it can be taken from Satan. He has no inherent authority.

In a larger sense all evil is restrained and kept within bounds; it can only prosper in the manner intended by God. This principle is stated by Paul:

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only He who now restrains it will do so until He is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of His mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of His coming (II Thess. 2:7-8).

Whether “he” refers to Deity, a member of the angelic host, or some earthly phenomenon does not matter; the point is that evil is under the control of Sovereignty. And this includes “the ruler of this world.” Evil is not autonomous and does not offer a challenge to the rule of God, rather, it has a specific part to play in His determined plan for the cosmos. Evil is not working against God with a potential for success, but is fulfilling His very purpose (see: God is Sovereign and The Problem of Evil).

Not only is the power of Satan derived and limited, but it will be terminated completely at the end time; he and the world system are both doomed (see: Satan’s Destiny).

Satan is not alone in his activity; he is the leader of demons (Matt. 9:34; 12:24; Mk. 3:22), so he has accomplices with him in his deceitful deeds. They are evil and assist Satan in perpetrating evil on the race (see: Demons).

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