By Reverend Mark Hunnemann
What does it mean to say that Satan is the "god/ruler/prince (archon) of this world"?
"I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming.(John 14:30, see 12:31; 16:11; 1 John 5:19)
"We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." (1 John 5:19)
Ummm...that is a pretty strong statement...has it puzzled you, as it has me?
Does it mean that God has delegated the whole earth to Satan--handed the deed over to him, as it were? And if this is the case, then does that mean that every aspect of human culture is intrinsically bad/satanic? Or worse, does it mean that Satan "stole" it from God? Or maybe, God still owns the earth, but has given control over the whole earth to Satan? It sure sounds like some kind of satanic kingdom on earth is being asserted. While in most places, Satan is referred to as the ruler (archon), but in 2 Cor.4:4 (ho theos tou aionos toutou) he is actually referred to as "the god of this world"..."In their case the god of this world as blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.". Yes, the same term used for GOD (theos) is used of Satan in this context...hmmm??!
I raise this question because, on the surface anyway, the phrase "ruler/god of this world" seems to imply some rather nasty or fearful scenarios.Have you ever wondered about this, because it seems to be giving Satan a whole lot of territorial control? (at least until the Last Judgment) And I have noticed that many Christians live in fear due to their interpretation of this phrase--or they have a very negative view of culture in general. It is one of those ideas that tends to color how we view everything else in the bible, so it is important that have a clear/accurate understanding of "the world" and that Satan is "the ruler of this world.".In John 15:18-19 the word kosmos (gk.world) is used six times!
The bible uses the term world in different ways. Sometimes the world refers to the whole creation of God; or the inhabited earth without any reference to sin..the earth in general. However, the human world has fallen into sin, which the bible reminds us of frequently. So, it often uses the term world--either the spatial term kosmos or the temporal term aion--(this is crucial) to designate everything opposed to God. Did you get that, because it vastly restricts and clarifies this notion.
Culture is a mixture of good and bad, so it is not referring to culture, per se. The word "world", is being used in an ethical sense--the world is entirely bad. The world is the kingdom of the Evil One; everything that is opposed to God. We should not be conformed to it.. (Rom 12:1-2) Culture is a broader term than world, and the world is the bad part of culture. It is not our purpose today to discuss the biblical view of culture, but to further refine our understanding of what "god/ruler of this world" means (or does not mean), we need to realize that what we call culture, is not synonymous with world. Simply put, we were/are commanded by the Lord to build culture, in the what reformed theologians call the "cultural mandate." (Gen. 1:28) There are good and bad aspects of our culture, and the bad aspects comprise part of the world.
There is an antithesis, or opposition, between Christ and the world (and Christians are in opposition with the world too). The world hates Jesus because He exposes its evil (Jn. 7:7) The world cannot receive the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:17) The world rejoiced when Jesus was killed (16:20) The disciples were not of the world, just as Jesus was not of the world (Jn 17:14), The most arresting antithesis is found in 1 John 2:15-17..."Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of his eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever."
So, we may say that the world is all aspects of God's creation that are in opposition to God--be it individuals or aspects of culture. It is over this "realm" that Satan is ruler or god. Unbelievers are blinded by Satan and our sinfulness has corrupted much of the culture we live in. There are two kingdoms in opposition--the Kingdom of God/heaven versus the kingdom of darkness. The world versus the Kingdom of God.
I suppose we could say that the world (in this sense) began in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve acted in opposition to God--they did the will of Satan and not God's will. In Genesis 4 we see the "world' in action--close up and ugly.Cain murders his own brother. In Heb 11:4 we see that Abel was justified by faith alone (faith in the future, coming Messiah) but Cain and his sacrifice were displeasing to God. In that tragic story we see the outworking of God's earlier assertion that there would be antithesis/opposition between the seed of the serpent (those whose master is Satan) and the seed of the woman--true believers (Jesus is their Lord). Adam and Eve knew the gospel, shared it with their kids--obviously, at least one of their children was an unbeliever, Cain.
Ever since the Fall, there have been two streams of humanity: those who are of the world, and those who are not of the world...unbelievers and believers. It is important to realize that those who do not serve Christ, are serving Satan whether they are aware of that or not. The world is the satanically energized, Christ hating, and law-despising individuals and aspects of culture. It is is almost by definition isn't it? Whatever is under Satan's influence, he is "ruler" over. The Devil is the ruler of the world only in the sense that he is ruler over any aspects aligned with him and in rebellion against God. And my response is, duh, of course he is! That should be comforting....I would think.
But we need to say more...more of what that phrase does NOT mean. Satan is not in sovereign control of even a square inch of the universe--the Lord, God Almighty is (Eph 1:11) in absolute control over every molecule in His vast creation...including any/all aspects of the world! He can take the wicked actions of wicked men (or demons) and bend them so that they will work together for our good (Rom.8:28)
God is the infinite/personal Creator of all things...including Lucifer, who rebelled in his free-will. The earth (Hebrews) and everything in it belongs to the Lord because He created it(Gen.1:1-2:3; Ps.24:1; 50:12 etc)
The earth is the palace of the Great King--which is also a theater displaying His glory!
Satan's very continued existence is by the word of God's power (Col. 1:16-17)
So, we should flee the world, right? Nope, against what we might think at first, Jesus prays that we would be protected from the Evil One, but "...I do not ask that You take them out of the world." (John 17:15) We are not of the world, but the Father sends us into the world, just as He sent His Son into the world.(17:11-18) We are to shine as lights in the dark world (Matt. 5:14-16) So, we are to be in the world, but not of the world--which is difficult to keep that balance. As the world hated Jesus, so we shall be hated by the world. Maybe we need to remember that,and not go into an extended funk because our faith was not appreciated. I have resolved recently to persevere through trials better than I had been....and by God's grace, it has been liberating.....
Let me conclude by reminding us that Christ has won the victory over Satan and the world. In John 16:11 it says that Satan has been judged--perfect tense (kekritai) "Has been judged and continues in the state of resulting from that judgment." "Now is the judgment of this world (kosmou); now will the ruler of this world be cast out." (John 14:31) "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." (Jn. 16:33)
Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook format.