Paul’s words to the Ephesians concerning “the powers of this dark world,” and “the spiritual forces of evil” (6:12), assume a truth that is much less a part of our world view today than it would have been in the first century. That truth is that there is a spiritual world consisting of evil powers as well as good. If you’re interested, I’ve developed this all of this more fully here.
The Christians at Ephesus were well aware of this. The practices connected with the temple of Artemis, Paul’s exorcisms, as well as the one attempted by some Jewish pretenders (Acts 19:11-16), are all evidence of their familiarity with the other world. The account of some of the Christians at Ephesus renouncing previous ties with sorcery practices (19:17-20), shows their past attempts to manipulate and protect themselves from such powers. And while the seven sons of Sceva incident underscores the large degree of ignorance and superstition often present in regard to such matters, we’d do well in our assessing to be judicious and not disregard every idea or thought that was part of their mindset because of some misunderstandings they had.
The other truth that needs noting here, is that Christ defeated all of these wicked powers at the cross (Colossians 2:13-15). The critical battle in the cosmic, spiritual war took place on a little hill outside Jerusalem. The evil forces were defeated and forced into retreat. They no longer occupy the same territory (Hebrews 2:14-15), or pose as great of a threat as they did before the cross (1 John 3:8). The war is not over yet; but since the cross, it has been on its way to being over. It’s just a matter of time. Things don’t always look this way, but by faith we understand it is this way (1 John 5:4-5). You can read more about Jesus’ triumph here.
These are the truths the section in 6:10-18 revolves around. Because Christ has defeated these powers, Christians can stand against them when we avail ourselves of His strength and protection. All of this should help us to better appreciate the placement of this discussion in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This section is more than just a conclusion to a letter; it is a climax, a crescendo, and a call to war.
Throughout Ephesians, Paul has been concerned with helping Christians to see the cosmic scope of the reign of Jesus. He’s not some local lord whose turf was granted by Rome. No, He’s not only Rome’s lord, He is lord over the powers behind Rome. Paul makes this clear in 1:20ff, where he tells them that God not only raised Jesus from the dead (the dead had been raised before), but He seated Him at His right hand, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come,” (v. 21).
But there’s more! Because Jesus reigns over all, believers have been raised up and seated with Him in the heavenly realms (2:6-7). From this vantage point, they enjoy every spiritual blessing (1:3). So even though there is conflict in this realm (6:12), Jesus reigns. The church is called to witness this through standing firm against the forces of evil by invoking the protection of the One who is Lord of all. As we do this, we witness to those powers in the heavenly realms (3:10-11).
To say this takes our tiny little lives out of the mundane and injects them with meaning we never imagine would be true but that’s not the real point. That would be to say that Jesus is so much more than we have imagined and allowed Him to be. He is Lord. He is Life. He is the One bringing all things in heaven and earth together (1:10). As we strap on His armor, we’re part of that.
Now that’s incredible!