The extent to which dark spiritual forces influence the world isn’t well understood. Most Christians acknowledge that the enemy, Satan, our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Because the Bible places so much emphasis on Satan – which is certainly not unjustified – few people recognize the scope of our opposition. Here’s the thing: Satan doesn’t work alone. He happens to be at the top of the heap of rebellious divine beings arrayed against God and His creation, but the empire of darkness encompasses a massive army.
We’re most familiar with this concept because of the well-known passage in Ephesians 6:12:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
This gives us the recognition that a wicked hierarchy exists in the invisible realm. What we typically fail to see is that the Bible addresses this kingdom of darkness throughout its pages. Consider what Paul said in Ephesians 1:20-21 in describing the majesty and dominion of God the Father:
… that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
Here again this hierarchy is in view. But who, or what, comprises it? What is every name that is named now and in future times?
Most of us are aware of the rebellion of the sons of God (bene Elohim) that occurred pre-flood as told in Genesis 6:1-4. Lesser known is the subsequent fall of God’s divine sons following man’s arrogant building of the Tower of Babel. God looked upon this structure and knew that its concept was of evil origin. He scattered mankind into nations and confused their language so as to make a repetition of this effort exceedingly difficult. But God didn’t stop there. In Deuteronomy 32:8 we learn of His next move:
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
Please note that you must read this in the ESV Bible translation, or you won’t see the implication. Most translations – instead of saying “sons of God” – say something like “sons of Israel” or “children of Israel.” We learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls – a much earlier source used for the ESV – that the correct phrase is sons of God.
The correct understanding of this is crucial. From it we gain the true perspective of the scope of the demonic empire in place throughout the world. In order to superintend all nations of the world – except Israel, which belonged to Yahweh – He placed His loyal, divine sons over them. They were to superintend mankind while God dealt exclusively with Israel. Part of their job description was to point men back to Yahweh. Instead of doing this, they rebelled, just as their brothers had done prior to the flood. Each of these mighty bene Elohim set himself up as divine ruler over his assigned nation. None remained loyal to their Father. It is from this sequence of events that we subsequently see many different gods ruling over the nations of the earth. They are dark princes, extremely powerful. We get a sense of this from Daniel 10 in which the Prince of Persia hinders the angel Gabriel in coming to Daniel with his message.
A day is coming in which these rebellious beings will be judged. This is what Psalm 82 is all about, i.e. God’s displeasure with His disobedient sons, and His judgment upon them as shown in Psalm 82:6-7:
I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
That time of death, i.e. God’s removal of their immortality is coming. It’s a main reason these beings are rising up so violently in these latter days. They – like Satan – know their time is short, and they will do whatever necessary to preserve themselves.
Going back to Ephesians 1:21, it is these gods over the nations that are the names currently named by men. They continue in place from ancient times and will have their evil day in full during the Tribulation. Satan’s empire includes all these gods of old, by whatever name they’ve used, be it Baal, Molech, Chemosh, and many others. Their combined might will cause chaos and confusion in the earth, even as God reigns down His wrath upon mankind. This is why the Tribulation will see such supernatural evil. It will be pervasive due to the works of these many princes who hate the Lord Jesus and His creation.
Paul speaks of these wicked rulers in conjunction with Satan. Consider how Paul describes the state of unredeemed man in Ephesians 2:1-3:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Every person alive was subject to these gods as they cooperated with Satan in his earthly kingdom as the prince of the power of the air. This demonic spirit is what animates these spiritual sons of disobedience. It is under their dominion that unbelievers live and carry out every evil deed coming from their sinful nature. Due to this combination of man’s sin and the depravity these rebellious divine beings have taught their human students, all are by nature children of wrath.
It’s the incredible mercy of God that provides us an escape from the clutches of this kingdom of darkness. Through the blood-bought gift of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection, we have life. This is the message of Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV):
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
The arrogance and pride that is so integral to Satan and his princely minions – and which has been imparted so well to their human cohort – is something we must place at the foot of the cross when we come to know the Lord Jesus. He has done the work of salvation. None of our efforts mean a thing. He has saved us. All we need to do is say yes to His kindness and love.
Through Him, we can echo David in Psalm 108:1 (NASB):
My heart is steadfast, O God;
I will sing, I will sing praises even with my soul.