Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12 that “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.” In light of Acts 19:11-20, and the temple of Artemis, I have no doubt that the disciples at Ephesus needed no elaboration from Paul in regard to spiritual forces. It was part of their world view. I don’t think the same thing can be said for most of us. Therefore, if we really want to get a handle on what Paul is saying here, we have to do a little background work.
1. The Scriptures speak of spiritual powers.
Just as there is a natural world we can see, there is a spiritual world that we cannot see. As we make our way though the biblical witness we are periodically furnished with glimpses into this reality. We come across such an occasion in the story of Elisha and his servant in 2 Kings 6. The Aramean king, weary of Elisha’s prophetic intervention, is determined to capture him. He hears that Elisha is in Dothan and sends his army there and they surround the city. The servant sees the army and is paralyzed with fear. Elisha prays that his servant’s eyes might be opened to see that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them,” (v. 16). His eyes are opened and he saw “the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha,” (v. 17). Apparently, they were there all along—he just didn’t “see” them. That’s our situation exactly.
Jesus tells us that God is Spirit (John 4:24). We’re told that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 1:3). We’re told of angels, demons, fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). In Ephesians 6:12, we read of rulers, authorities, powers, and spiritual forces. Hell is a place “prepared for the devil and his angels,” (Matthew 25:41). In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus talks about two men who have died, and their spirits are in a place called Hades, which literally means, unseen. It’s clear—there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye! In a world that seeks to substantiate everything in a laboratory, this may make no sense. But to those who allow the Scripture to give them a conviction about things unseen, this is not speculation but revelation.
- All of these beings started out good, but some ended up evil.
Paul tells us in Colossians 1:15-16 that all things were created by and for Jesus. He mentions things in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible, thrones, powers, rulers, and authorities. Since all of these were created by God through Jesus and for Jesus, all of these spiritual powers were once good. They were intended by God to promote goodness and harmony within the universe He made. But for some reason (and the Scripture doesn’t elaborate), things didn’t stay this way. The Scripture speaks of angels who sinned (2 Peter 2:4), who did keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home (Jude 6). Paul speaks of “powers of this dark world” and “spiritual forces of evil,” (Ephesians 6:12).
- Since they influence mankind, their rebellion infected the world.
How do they influence the world? Hold on to that thought and just assume for the moment that they do. If it’s true that they were intended to affect us for good, then wouldn’t it also be true that their rebellion would infect the world?
It’s wrong (and terribly superficial), to look at sin from an individual perspective. Sin affects the human family! There are no such things as victimless crimes—the very idea is itself a witness of the affects of sin.
Think of it in computer terms. Your computer is the wonderful piece of technology that enables you to store and transmit information, communicate with others, watch movies, play music, and learn marvelous things. But what happens when it is infected by a virus? You may have some files that aren’t infected but they’re still part of an infected system. They’re all at lest indirectly affected by the virus. This is the way we should look and think of our world. It is not a huge group of free-standing individual units, it is part of one system—a system that has been infected by sin and rebellion at the deepest level.
You see this in John’s writings. In 1 John 2:15-17 he writes:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
He adds in 5:19:
We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.