Monday, May 11, 2020

The Nature, Purpose and Destiny of the Adversary (Part Four)

Spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials

The being who is most commonly referred to in Scripture as “the Adversary” and “Satan” is not the only adversarial superhuman being in existence. This is evident from Rev. 12:7-9, where we read that the Adversary (who, as noted in part one, is symbolically represented in these verses as a “great dragon”) has his own “messengers” who will assist him in a battle against “Michael and his messengers”:  

And a battle occurred in heaven. Michael and his messengers battle with the dragon, and the dragon battles, and its messengers. And they are not strong enough for him, neither was their place still found in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, the ancient serpent called Adversary and Satan, who is deceiving the whole inhabited earth. It was cast into the earth, and its messengers were cast with it.

Another passage in which it’s implied that Satan holds sway over an unknown number of other adversarial, superhuman beings is Ephesians 6:11-12. In these verses, Paul wrote the following:

“Put on the panoply of God, to enable you to stand up to the stratagems of the Adversary, for it is not ours to wrestle with blood and flesh, but with the sovereignties, with the authorities, with the world-mights of this darkness, with the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials.”

Evidently, the Adversary is the ruler of a hierarchy of other superhuman, adversarial beings that Paul went on to describe in v. 12 as ”the sovereignties,” “the authorities,” and “the world-mights of this darkness.” Paul was not, by his use of these terms, referring merely to abstract, impersonal and lifeless things. As with the other references to “sovereignties” and “authorities” in Scripture (e.g., Rom. 8:38; Eph. 1:21; 3:10; Col. 1:16; 2:15; 1 Pet. 3:22), what Paul referred to in Eph. 6:12 as “sovereignties” “authorities” and “world-mights” should be understood as titles belonging to living, personal beings who had varying degrees of influence over the lives of those to whom he wrote (or over the society to which they belonged). Just as Paul had in mind living, personal entities when he referred to “the superior authorities” in Rom. 13:1-7, so he had in mind living, personal entities in Eph. 6:12.

In Romans 13:1 and Titus 3:1 (cf. Luke 12:11), it’s evident that Paul had human beings in mind when he used the terms “sovereignties” and “authorities.” However, such is not the case in Eph. 6:12. For, in this verse, Paul contrasted the entities to which he referred (including “the Adversary”) with beings who are “blood and flesh.” Elsewhere in Scripture, the expression “blood and flesh” (or “flesh and blood”) refers to the mortal and corruptible nature of human beings (1 Cor. 15:50; Heb. 2:14), or – by extension – mortal humans themselves (Matt. 16:13-17; Gal. 1:16). Whether we understand the expression “blood and flesh” in Eph. 6:12 to mean “mortal human nature” or “mortal humans,” the implication of what Paul affirmed in this verse (i.e., that “it is not ours to wrestle with blood and flesh”) is clear: neither the Adversary nor the entities referred to in v. 12 are beings with a mortal, human nature. Rather, they belong to a different class, or order, of beings entirely.

This is confirmed by the fact that these entities are further described as “spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials.” No human “sovereignties” or “authorities” could legitimately be described as spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials.” According to Paul’s usage of the term “spiritual” elsewhere, the only humans who can be considered “spiritual” are those who are being “taught by the spirit,” who are “receiving those things which are of the spirit of God,” and who are “walking in spirit” (see 1 Cor. 2:13-15; 3:1; 14:37; Gal. 6:1 [cf. Gal. 5:16]). In these and other verses, Paul contrasted humans who are “spiritual” with those who are “soulish” and “fleshly.” Thus, the adversarial entities with whom Paul believed the saints in the body of Christ have to “wrestle” (i.e., the “spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials”) can’t be considered “spiritual” in the same sense in which Paul described certain humans as “spiritual.” It simply wouldn’t make any sense. The only other sense in which living, intelligent beings who are “wicked” could be referred to as “spiritual” is if they belong to that order of non-human entities who are referred to elsewhere as “spirits” (see, for example, Luke 24:39; Heb. 1:14; 1 Pet. 3:19; Rev. 5:5 [cf. Rev. 8:2; Luke 1:19]).

The expression “among the celestials” confirms this understanding of the nature of the “spiritual forces of wickedness” referred to by Paul in Eph. 6:12. Earlier in this letter, Paul wrote that, after rousing Christ from among the dead, God seated him “at his right hand among the celestials, up over every sovereignty and authority and power and lordship, and every name that is named…” (Eph. 1:20-21). Here, the location in which Christ is presently located is said to be “among the celestials.” And where is Christ located at this time? Answer: At the right hand of God. And where is this? Here is Hebrews 8:1-5 and 9:23-24:

“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man…Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”

Since Christ is located in what the author of Hebrews called “heaven itself,” we can conclude that to be “among the celestials” means being among those whose dwelling place is in heaven, and whose nature makes them suited for life in this heavenly, “extraterrestrial” realm (in contrast with those whose nature is merely terrestrial/earthly).[1]

In light of the above considerations, the beings referred to by Paul as “spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials” should best be understood as belonging to that order of superhuman, spiritual beings who are elsewhere referred to as the “host of heaven” (see 1 Kings 22:19; Neh. 9:6; Isaiah 24:21; Dan. 4:35; cf. Luke 2:13), and among whom are beings such as Michael and Gabriel. But is there any other scriptural evidence for the view that, among the celestial beings who constitute the “host of heaven,” some are wicked and antagonistic toward humanity? I think so. In fact, in one of the verses referenced above, I think this fact is clearly implied. In Isaiah 24:21-22 (ESV) we read the following:

On that day the Lord will punish
    the host of heaven, in heaven,
    and the kings of the earth, on the earth.
They will be gathered together
    as prisoners in a pit;
they will be shut up in a prison,
    and after many days they will be punished.

In these verses we find “the host of heaven, in heaven” distinguished from “the kings of the earth, on the earth.” However, both of these groups are going to be “punished” (or “called to account,” CVOT) in the day of the Lord – i.e., during that future period of judgment when God defeats the enemies of Israel and restores the kingdom to his covenant people (Isaiah 24:23; cf. chapters 25-27).

In other articles on my blog, I’ve shared my view that, in Psalm 82, Asaph had in view superhuman, heavenly beings to whom God has given a certain degree of authority over the nations of the earth (and who are using their authority to promote – rather than prevent – injustice on the earth). This chapter reads as follows in the English Standard Version

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:  “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!

It’s evident that the members of this “divine council” who we find being addressed by Yahweh are not righteous beings. Rather than making sure that the weak, fatherless, afflicted, destitute and needy are taken care of, these beings were instead showing “partiality to the wicked” and allowing (or even enabling) the wicked to prosper and take advantage of those less powerful than they. They are thus rebuked by Yahweh for their unjust administration, and for the misuse of the authority that God had given them. The final verse of this Psalm is, I believe, especially telling: ”Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!” This plea and expectation of Asaph implies that it is “all the nations” which were being (and continue to be) negatively influenced by the wicked “gods” and “sons of the Most High” (and that this unjust state of affairs will be made right when God finally intervenes and judges the earth). But what is the nature of these “gods?”

The very fact that the members of the “divine council” referred to in Psalm 82 are said to be both “gods” (or “elohim”) and “sons of the Most High” suggests that they’re not human beings. Significantly, the beings referred to in Deut. 32:43 and Psalm 8:4-6 as “the gods” are, in the letter to the Hebrews, referred to as “the angels” (Heb. 1:6; 2:7, 9). And in this letter, “the angels” (or “the messengers”) to which the author referred should be understood as belonging to a different (and higher) order of beings than mortal humans. For other references to the superhuman beings referred to as “the gods” in Psalm 82, see Exodus 15:11; Deut. 3:24; 10:17 (cf. Dan. 2:47; 11:36); 1 Kings 8:23; Psalm 86:8; 95:3, 6-7; 96:4; 97:9; 135:5; 136:2. [2]

Psalm 89:5-7 confirms this understanding by locating the “divine council” referred to in Psalm 82 in “the heavens” (rather than on the earth):

“Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?”

If the “gods” being addressed by Yahweh in Psalm 82 are non-human, heavenly beings (which seems reasonable, especially in light of Psalm 89:5-7), then this Psalm can be understood as revealing that these beings had been given a certain degree of authority over the nations of the earth (and were using their authority in a way that was displeasing to God). That God had allotted the nations of the earth to certain heavenly beings (the “sons of God”) is, arguably, revealed in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 as well. In the English Standard Version, these verses read as follows: “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. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage” (other translations that read “sons of God” – or something similar – in Deut. 32:8 are the New American Bible (Revised Edition), the New Revised Standard Version and the Concordant Version of the Old Testament).[3] For other occurrences of the expression “the sons of God,” see Gen. 6:1-2, Job 1:6 and Job 38:7. As argued in the last installment of this study, I think it’s pretty clear that the “sons of God” referred to in Job are non-human, celestial beings (for a concise defense of the view that the “sons of God” referred to in Genesis 6 should be understood as celestial beings as well, I recommend the following article by Chuck Missler:

In the tenth chapter of the book of Daniel we find further confirmation that there are, in fact, wicked celestial beings who are exercising their authority in a way that is antagonistic toward the saints on earth. In Daniel 10:12-14 and 10:20-21, we read the following:

“Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The chief of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the first chiefs, came to help me, for I was left there with the chief of the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”

“Then he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the chief of the kingdom of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the chief of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your chief.”

The heavenly messenger who spoke the words we find recorded in these passages was likely Gabriel (see Daniel 8:16; 9:21). And based on what this messenger declared to Daniel, we can conclude that there are several “chiefs” among the celestial beings who preside over the nations of the earth (which is in accord with what we read in Psalm 82 concerning the unjust “elohim”). And among these celestial “chiefs” is Michael (who, in Dan. 10:21, is referred to as “[Daniel’s] chief,” and later in Dan. 12:1 as “the great chief who is standing over the sons of [Daniel’s] people”).

While Michael (who is the “chief” of Daniel’s people, Israel) is clearly on the side of God and the saints among God’s covenant people, there are others (e.g., the “chief of the kingdom of Persia”) who are, evidently, antagonistic toward them. And the fact that Gabriel needed help from Michael after being “withstood” by the “chief of the kingdom of Persia” for three weeks indicates that this “chief” was at least as powerful as Gabriel himself (a fact which undermines any possible objection that these “chiefs” might have been merely human rulers).

Keeping the above verses from Daniel 10 in mind, let’s now consider Ephesians 2:1-2. In these verses read the following:

“And you, being dead to your offenses and sins, in which once you walked, in accord with the eon of this world, in accord with the chief of the jurisdiction of the air, the spirit now operating in the sons of stubbornness…”

The fact that Paul referred to the Adversary as “the chief of the jurisdiction of the air” in Eph. 2:2 is, I believe, significant. In the Septuagint, the term translated “chief” in Eph. 2:2 (archon) was used to translate the Hebrew term translated “chief” (or “prince”) in the above verses from Daniel 10 and 12. Paul was likely very familiar with this Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and it’s possible that he had these verses from Daniel in mind when he used the expression “the chief of the jurisdiction of the air” in Eph. 2:2. In any case, if there are any verses from the Hebrew Scriptures that can inform our understanding of what Paul wrote in Eph. 2:2, it’s the verses from Daniel 10 and 12 in which certain superhuman “chiefs” are in view. It is, therefore, reasonable to understand the spiritual entity referred to by Paul as “the chief of the jurisdiction of the air” as the same sort of superhuman being as the chief of Daniel’s people (Michael) or the chief of the kingdom of Persia.

Unlike these other “chiefs” (who each have jurisdiction over a particular nation or kingdom of the earth), the jurisdiction of the chief to whom Paul referred in Eph. 2:2 is said to be “the air.” This suggests that the authority of this chief is not limited to any one nation or kingdom on the earth. Rather, like the air that surrounds the earth, the jurisdiction of the chief referred to in Eph. 2:2 is worldwide in scope. The worldwide scope of the Adversary’s jurisdiction is in accord with the fact that (as noted in part two of this study) he was able to offer Christ ”all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.”

Some believe that, since the chief of the jurisdiction of the air is referred to as a “spirit,” he should be understood as a mental disposition, attitude or mindset that certain persons have. While it’s true that the Hebrew and Greek words translated “spirit” (ruach and pneuma, respectively) can, in certain contexts, be understood to denote a certain mental disposition, feeling or attitude (e.g., a “spirit of fear” or a “spirit of jealousy”), it’s also true that the terms can denote intelligent, superhuman beings (such as the kind of beings that Michael and Gabriel are). For example, in 2 Chron. 18:20, a member of the heavenly council is referred to as “a spirit,” and in Hebrews 1:14 all of the non-human messengers with whom Christ is contrasted throughout this chapter are referred to as “spirits.” We also read in Rev. 5:5 that the “seven torches of fire” which John saw “burning before the throne” represent “the seven spirits of God.” These “seven spirits of God” who were represented as torches of fire burning before God’s throne are later referred as “the seven messengers who stand before God” (concerning the possible identity of one of these seven spirits, see Luke 1:19).

In 2 Pet. 2:4-5 and Jude 6, certain beings are referred to as “sinning messengers” who “kept not their own sovereignty” but left “their own habitation.” As a result of their sin, we’re told that these messengers were thrust into “the gloomy caverns of Tartarus” and given up “to be kept for chastening judging” (or, as Jude says, these messengers are being “kept in imperceptible bonds under gloom for the judging of the great day”). That these “sinning messengers” should be understood as belonging to the same order of non-human beings as the messengers referred to in Hebrews 1:14 (who, again, are referred to as “spirits”) is further evident from 1 Pet. 3:19-20, where they’re referred to as “the spirits in jail” who were “once stubborn, when the patience of God awaited in the days of Noah…”

We thus have just as much reason to believe that the spirit who Paul referred to as “the chief of the jurisdiction of the air” and “the Adversary” is a living, personal being as we have reason to believe that the messengers Gabriel and Michael are living, personal beings.

[1] Some may object that, in Eph. 2:5-6, we’re told that God “vivifies us together in Christ…and rouses us together and seats us together among the celestials, in Christ Jesus…” However, Paul was simply using the figure of speech “prolepsis” here (according to which that which is certain to happen is spoken of as if it had already taken place, or was already taking place). Just as no member of the body of Christ has been vivified or roused yet, so our being seated together among the celestials is also a future reality.

[2] In many Bibles, Psalm 96:5 says that all the elohim of the nations “are idols.” Based on this translation, some have argued that the elohim of the nations must not be real, living beings who were created by God. However, the term sometimes translated “idols” in Psalm 96:5 (אלילים) literally means “useless things” or “insufficient things.” To translate this term as “idols” obscures the rhetorical force of the verse. The Psalmist was making a play on words here; the term looks and sounds very similar to the Hebrew word אלהים (elohim or “gods”), but the elohim of the nations are powerless compared to Yahweh (who, in contrast with the “useless” elohim of the nations, “made the heavens”).

That these “elohim” were not merely imagined, non-existent beings is evident from Deut. 32:17, where we read the following“They sacrificed to demons, not Eloah, to elohim–they had not known them before–to new ones that came from nearby…” Compare this verse with 1 Cor. 10:19-20, where Paul identified the elohim referred to in Deut. 32:17 (and which were commonly represented by idols) as demons. In light of this connection, the elohim of the nations should be understood as belonging to that category of wicked spiritual beings among the celestials referred to by Paul in Eph. 6:12.

[3] Some Hebrew manuscripts have “according to the number of the sons of Israel” rather than “according to the number of the sons of God,” and the majority of English translations – starting with the King James Version – have opted for this reading (with many still including the alternate reading in a footnote). However, this textual variant is almost certainly a corruption of the original text. For a defense of the “sons of God” reading, I recommend the following article by Michael Heiser: Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God” (see also

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