Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:12d “. . .against the rulers of the darkness of this world,. . .”
The word translated as “rulers” (kosmokratoras) is literally “world-rulers.” In the upper echelons of evil, certain demons hold sway over vast territories of earth. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 J 5:19 NAS), who delegates to his chief deputies custody over certain large regions.
“World-rulers” are seen in Daniel 10. An angelic messenger was sent to Daniel, but the moment the herald left heaven, an opponent left hell and delayed the messenger in the spirit realm for 21 days. The messenger finally did reach Daniel, but solely because the mighty archangel Michael came to his aid.
This evil antagonist was the “prince of the kingdom of Persia.” The Hebrew word for “prince” is “Sar,” from which we derive Caesar, Kaiser, and Czar. This Sar was apparently one of the “kosmokratoras,” the world-rulers. He was the angel of darkness designated to lord over Persia’s far-flung world empire.
Greece also had a Sar (DN 10). Evidently, other nations do, too. As the hidden and dominating spiritual force behind pagan gods, Sars help keep the masses in “the darkness of this world,” and bolster earth’s spiritual blindness.
Through idolatry, unbelievers yield themselves to the “world-rulers.” “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God” (1 C 10:20b NAS). Believers, safe in Jesus, need not fear being possessed by these powerful Sars. “We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one” (1 C 8:4b). Unbelievers, though, are in danger. Wherever “darkness” is supreme, the “kosmokratoras” hold sway.
To learn how sinister these Sars actually are, study nations controlled by “darkness.” Where ignorance and unbelief of the only true living God spreads its gloom, where superstition fuels people’s fear of the unknown, where the precious Lord Jesus is rejected, there “world-rulers” erect their thrones.
Where the Sun of Righteousness has not been allowed to rise with healing in his wings, there the Sars of unrighteousness descend with poison in their stings. I am glad the United Nations is holding its international women’s conference in China. The harassing and haranguing of the female delegates is allowing the world to see what it is really like to be in a country where “world-rulers,” rather than Christ, hold sway. Go to the Middle East, and view the plight, the virtual slavery, of women where Christ is not enthroned. Go to the Far East. You will see cows being venerated while children starve nearby. Where the Sars rule, human rights and dignity are merely a pipe-dream.
The world’s greatest need is Jesus. He is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to this old sin-plagued world. Evil “world-rulers” run rampant through “the air” (EP 2:2) because the vast majority of earth’s citizens have not availed themselves of the results of Christ’s victory. The Sars are blinding people. We who are the light of the world must shine in their darkness.
Eph. 6:12e “. . .against spiritual wickedness. . .”
By repeatedly using “against” in rapid succession, Paul has highlighted the intense spiritual resistance believers face. Our foes are real, and not to be underrated or taken for granted. The challenge is intensified by the fact we oppose “spiritual wickedness,” or more literally, “spirit-forces of wickedness.” Imagination and fable give Satan and his imps material form. Forget it. Our evil rivals are spirits, unencumbered with an animal frame of clay, and unlimited by space and distance. They are able to travel anywhere, including. . .
Eph. 6:12f “. . .in high places.”
This word for “high places” is translated “heavenly places” four other times in Ephesians (1:3,20; 2:6; 3:10). Maybe King James’ translators feared to state the obvious lesson taught here. In “heavenly places” we enjoy all spiritual blessings, sit with Christ, and find wisdom, but this very place where we seek our gentlest serenity is the site of the conflict, the scene of the combat.
“Heavenly places” sums up for us everything that is wonderful about our life in Jesus, but even when enjoying our wonderful position in Christ we are not immune from the assaults of evil spiritual forces. They attack us in our elevated place, our special realm where we sit by Jesus. Have they no shame? Demons subject us to their seductions even when our hearts are filled with heaven, when we are in prayer, or in the midst of a glorious worship service.
The tempter has access to us, wherever we are. This magnifies our predicament. The enemy is not only outside us, but at hand, even in the precious, holy place. Our innermost self is the arena. The battle rages in our spirits.
In a way, our text brings distressing news, but it also helps us by exposing the secret of Satan’s success. His chief haunts are “darkness” and “heavenly places.” Combining the two is Satan’s winning combination, his formula for success. He carries the day whenever darkness overshadows a person’s spirit.
Satan’s success is only partly due to his intense hatred for God. A caged animal who has nothing to lose, Satan fights with reckless abandon. Furious and merciless, he has no sympathy for the wounded, merely hatred for God.
Another partial reason for Satan’s success is his vast arsenal. The world is his domain. Its resources are at his disposal. He tempts in the mental or physical realm at will. For every gift of God, Satan has a counterfeit–for marital fidelity, adultery; for fellowship, sinful gatherings; for abundant life, sin’s pleasures; for salvation, escapism (eg. drinking and excessive entertainment).
A vast arsenal and hatred for God help Satan, but the primary reason for his success is the darkness people allow to rule in their own spiritual lives. Our willingness gives Satan the advantage. Without human consent, the devil could do nothing. Were it not for us, Satan would be impotent. He is always present only as an invited guest. The devil, like God, can not force himself on anyone. Remember, the devil did not cram the apple down Eve’s throat.
God controls everything except, due to His own sovereign choice, human will. Satan is defeated everywhere except where God has limited Himself. God will not overstep the boundary of human will. Thus it is Satan’s only arena.
Since darkness in the spiritual life gives Satan victory, the key to successful Christian living is to keep one’s “heavenly place” well lit. The way to thwart demons is to keep darkness out of one’s self.
Believers are not in danger of being possessed by demons. We have no need to slip into hyper-hysteria, but do be careful. Avoid anything that smacks of the demonic, for by staying out of harm’s way, harm stays out of our way.
Be not overly obsessed with Satan. Otherwise, we will be too frightened by the immensity and strength of our opponents, and thus be in danger of failing before we even begin. “It is dangerous to look too long at Satan. He has the hypnotic ability to paralyze souls and destroy their defenses” (Powell).
Focus on Jesus. Read the Word daily. Pray regularly. Meditate often. By keeping the light bright in our “heavenly place,” we keep the darkness out.