Ephesians 6:11-13: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand”.
1. Angels are not mentioned here.
2. This passage lists various things against which the Christian fights - it does not say that those things are trying to enter men and make them sin.
3. The world is under God’s control, not that of evil beings in heaven (Dan. 4: 32). “All power” in heaven and in earth has been given to Jesus (Matt. 28:18) by God (Rev. 3:21; Lk. 22:29), so it cannot also be possessed by wicked beings in heaven.
4. We have seen that there can be no sinful being in heaven itself (Ps. 5: 4 & 5; Hab. 1:13; Matt. 6:10).
5. Verse 12 may be translated, “For we wrestle not only against flesh and blood...” i.e., we do not only wrestle against individual men, but against organized systems.
6. There is much figurative language in vs. 11-17 - the armour of the Christian is figurative, as is the wrestling, seeing that “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men” (2 Tim. 2:24); v. 12 should be similarly interpreted.
7. If the “Devil” was cast out of heaven in Eden, how could he and his followers still have been in the literal heavens in Paul’s time?
1. The context is set in v. 13. The preparation was to be because the church was facing “the evil day”. This refers to a period of especial persecution of the church, which was to come at the hands of the Romans, seeing they were the only people with enough power to create an “evil day” for the Christian church at the time Paul was writing. (1 Pet. 4:12; 5: 8-9). The wrestling was against “the rulers of this dark world”, who at the time were the Romans. Note that the wrestling is spiritual wrestling to keep the faith (2 Cor. 10: 3-5). This time of evil had already begun as Paul was writing (Eph. 5:16)- “the days are evil’.
2. “Principalities” is translated “magistrate” in Luke 12:11; human “rule”, in the sense of human government, in 1 Corinthians 15:24, and the “power” of the Roman governor in Luke 20:20. So it does not necessarily have reference to any power or prince in heaven.
3. “Powers” is translated as the “authority” of the Roman governor in Luke 20:20, and regarding one having “authority” in Matthew 7:29. We must “be subject to principalities and powers” (Titus 3:1) in the sense of earthly governments, insofar as they do not ask us to do things which are contrary to the Law of God (Acts 5:29; 4:19; Matt. 19:17). If “principalities and powers” are evil beings in heaven whom we must resist, why are we told to be subject to them? If we accept that they refer to human governors and authorities, then this is easily understandable.
4. “Wicked spirituals in high (heavenly) places”. We have shown that this cannot refer to wicked beings in heaven itself. The exalted position of the true believers in Christ is described as being “in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 2:6). “Spirituals” can be used to describe those in the church who had the gift of the spirit; having given a list of commands as to how the gifts of the spirit should be used, Paul concludes: “If any man (in the church) think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual (i.e. spiritually gifted, see N.I.V.), let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). 1 Corinthians 14 shows there was a big problem in the church of believers misusing the spirit gifts. Hebrews 6: 4-6 describes some Jewish Christians in the first century who had the gift of the spirit, but who were leading the church away from true Christianity by their attitude. These would be a prime example of wicked spirituals in the heavenlies (i.e. in the church). The temple and ark are sometimes referred to as the heavens (2 Sam. 15:25, cp. 1 Kgs. 8: 30; 2 Chron. 30:27; Ps. 20: 2 & 6; 11: 4; Heb. 7:26). The church is the new temple. In the same way as wicked people could be in the temple, so, too, they could be in the heavenlies of the church. Possession of the Spirit did not mean that someone was necessarily acceptable in God’s sight, e.g. Saul possessed it for a time(1 Sam. 10:10) as did the judges of Israel (Num. 11:17) although they were not righteous; they did not believe the report of Joshua and Caleb and therefore were condemned to die like the other Israelites, despite their having the Spirit - Psalm 82:1-7 says as much. For a period the churches of Revelation 2 and 3 possessed the gifts despite their errors, until eventually their candlestick was removed (cp. Acts 20: 28-29; Eph. 4:11; Rev. 2:5). Thus the wicked spirits in the heavenlies were apostate Christians within the church, leading the church into an “evil day” of temptation.
5. Thus the threat to the church was twofold: from the Roman/Jewish persecution and from the (often Judaist) “false apostles” (2 Cor. 11:13) within. Remember Ephesians 6:11-13 was written to the church at Ephesus. Paul had previously warned them about this threat from within: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
Rotherham’s translation brings this out well:
“Our struggle is against the principalities against the authorities against the world - rulers of this darkness, AND against spiritual wickedness in heavenlies”.
6. Thus, all these things are “the wiles of the Devil” (v. 11) in the sense of the evil desires of the flesh expressed through the system of world government and apostate Christians.
7. “Heavenly places” may also refer to positions of authority in the secular world. Thus the king of Babylon was a figurative “star” in heaven (Is. 14:12), i.e. a great ruler. Jesus is the “sun” (Mal. 4:2), the saints are the “stars” (Dan. 12:3) of the future order. The present “heavens” of man will be replaced by the new Heavens when the Kingdom is established on the earth (2 Pet. 3:13), i.e. the positions of power and rulership, now in the hands of sinful men, will be handed over to the true Christians. The saints of the Most High shall possess the kingdoms of men (Dan. 7:27). Thus wicked spirits in the “heavens” could refer to men of wicked minds in places of power in the world who were persecuting the Christians.
8. It is just possible to still interpret “the Devil” in v. 11, as having a certain degree of reference to the “Jewish Satan”. The “Heavenly places” of v. 12 may refer to the Jewish heavenlies; 2 Peter 3 and Deuteronomy 32:1 speak of the Jewish heavens. This is strengthened by the fact that the “sun, moon and stars” are sometimes figurative of the Jews ( e.g. Genesis 22:17; 37: 9; Dan. 8: 9, 10, 24). We have shown that the wicked spirituals may have reference to the Jewish Christians who were spirit-gifted, but turned to apostasy. They would thus be in both the Christian and Jewish “heavenlies”. The threat from within the church posed by the Judaizers infiltrating the church (see “Suggested Explanation” - all points - of 2 Cor. 11:13-15), who were Jews. In “Suggested Explanation” No. 2 of 1 Timothy 5: 14-15, it is shown that the “seducing spirits” (spirituals) of 1 Timothy 4:1 were Jewish false teachers. Thus “the Devil” was manifested in the Roman authorities and the Jews within the Christian church.
The “wiles of the Devil” offers support to the Jewish context in that one of its few other occurrences the word for “wiles” is translated “to lie in wait to deceive”, in a verse which talks about the Judaizers subtly trying to introduce false doctrine into the church: the church was being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14). If the “heavenly places” also represent the Jewish system, further meaning is given to Ephesians 3: 3-10: “The mystery...that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs (with the Jews), and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the Gospel...to make all men (both Jews and Gentiles) see what is the fellowship of the mystery...to the intent now that unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God”, i.e. that by the church showing the unity that existed between Jew and Gentile within it, the Jewish leaders (“principalities and powers in heavenlies”) might come to appreciate “the manifold wisdom of God”. This, in turn, opens up John 17:21, “That they all (Jews and Gentiles) may be one...that the world (this phrase almost always means the Jewish world in John’s Gospel) may believe that thou hast sent me”. The “evil day” of v. 13 would be a result of the Judaizers, who were “evil men and seducers” (2 Tim. 3:13). For the links between 2 Timothy 3 and the Judaizers, see notes on 2 Timothy 2:26 ; between them and “seducers”, see “Suggested Explanation” No. 2 of 1 Timothy 5:14.
9. Ps. 78:49 speaks of the existence of "Angels of evil" at the time of the Passover deliverance- not sinful Angels, but Angels who had the responsiblity for bringing "evil" in the sense of the judgment which God alone is responsible for (Is. 45:5-7). God was bringing "evil" upon the 1st century world in the wake of the crucifixion of His Son and the refusal of Israel to repent. And the "evil" which the Christians were experiencing from their persecutors was ultimately allowed and orchestrated by God Himself through His Angels, in order to develop them towards His Kingdom. It could be possible to interpret the heavenly hosts of spirits [Angels] responsible for the situation on earth experienced by the believers. Note that they wrestled pros these forces- and pros doesn't necessarily mean "against", but can carry the sense of 'alongside', 'relating to'. The forces of darkness had a kosmokrator ("ruler") over them; it could be that the Angels responsible for "evil" have an Angel over them, just as the "Angels of evil" at Passover time were co-ordinated by the Angel of death, whom the Passover Angel [the Angel co-ordinating "good"?] didn't permit to touch the observant Israelites (Ex. 12:23). Regarding the word kosmokrator, "In Rabbinic literature... the Greek term occurs as a foreign word for the angel of death" (1). What is to be noted is that the Angel of death was not sinful, but was working for God, doing His work and will. Note the other allusions to the Passover night in the context (Eph. 6:18 = Ex. 12:42 Heb.; Eph. 6:14,15 = Ex. 12:11; It would therefore be the case that the message of Eph. 6:12 is that evil, in whatever form we encounter it, isn't radical, not free range in the cosmos, but is under the total control of the ultimately good God and His righteous Angels. The Lord Jesus may have alluded to this Angel of death in saying that the prince of this world was coming, as he did to Egypt at Passover time, but found no cause for slaying Christ, just as the faithful Israelites were preserved (Jn. 14:30).
David Pitt-Francis expounded the view that many of the later New Testament documents are full commentary upon and critical allusion to popular ideas of false religion which were circulating at the time. His commentary on Ephesians 6 bears quoting at more length (2):
"The object of the Christian message was to shake such imagined deities out of their places, so that men would give real glory to Christ, and to the God of Heaven alone. Paul describes the conflict of Christian witness as a struggle, not against flesh and blood but... “against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness; against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”. To many unacquainted with the real impact of the gospel, both sun and moon seemed to have personalities which they did not possess, as did the stars of heaven, heaven itself, and those exalted parts of nature such as mountains and islands. Thus Isaiah 2, which contains primarily a prophecy against idolatry in Israel and describes idol-worship in the context of ‘high mountains’ and ‘lofty hills’ contains a description of the flight of men into caves and holes of the rocks from the terror of God, and this description is borrowed in Revelation . The end of the worship of sun, moon and stars is also foretold by Isaiah in a later passage, where the imagined gods of heaven are described as being punished: “On that day, the Lord will punish the host of heaven, in heaven - and the kings of the earth, on earth - they will be gathered together as prisoners in a pit... ... then the moon will be ashamed, and the sun confounded for the Lord of hosts will reign.” Here the host of heaven cannot represent the kings of the earth, who are separately described in this passage. The kings imprison themselves in a pit, just like those of chapter 2 who enter the caves and holes of the earth and the chief men of the sixth seal. The effect of Christian testimony would be the downfall of the imagined gods of the ancient world who were all associated with the exalted things of nature. In a Graeco-Roman context, for example the sun would have been associated with Apollo, the moon with Artemis, the stars with many deities and heaven itself with Uranus. Mountains and islands were not only objects of worship, but often places of worship (compare the ‘high place’ worship of apostate Israel). Yet the Graeco-Roman context is a partial and deceptive one, and has resulted in a restricted and partial understanding of the prophecy. The interpretation is the obvious one, and yet the most neglected one. In the Old Testament, the words ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ occur frequently as the objects of false worship. The phrase ‘host of heaven’ (i. e. the stars) is similarly used. The teaching that those things that are exalted in nature represented the gods that were then thought to exist, against whom Christianity made its onslaughts was plainly accepted by the early Church in its reading of passages such as: ‘every mountain and hill shall be made low’ (60) - to prepare a highway for the progress of the Gospel. There are not, nor have there ever been ‘spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places’ in the sense in which the phrase may primarily have been understood by converted pagans, but the adoration of sun, moon and stars has dominated the religious cults of every nation under heaven, and every kind of evil has been associated with it. The Old Testament prophecies, such as those quoted from Isaiah, were taken to mean that the gods would lose their power, because of Christian testimony, for the bulk of people in the days of Isaiah and of John would have regarded sun, moon and stars as personalities in their own right, whether they worshipped them or not. Every nation worshipped its sun-god and moon-god. The light of sun and moon was equated by many with the supreme light of God Himself. The perverted worship of all nations was directed to the host of heaven, and Isaiah, in the passages quoted foresaw the time when the host of heaven would be ‘ashamed’ by the supreme light of Divine Truth. It would have been tedious in Revelation to have named specifically the deities of Greece and Rome, far less those of all other nations. The names of the sun-god, Apollo, Ra, Amon, Baal, Bel-Marduk.... would have alone formed quite a catalogue. Add the names of the moon-god, the host of heaven, the sky, island - and mountain-gods and the list would have been impossibly long. Further, this chapter does not, as does Isaiah, mention those associated with oaks and trees, but only the exalted obstacles to the progress of the Gospel, those in the sky, and those that project towards the sky. Jesus’ words are even more concise, for He says that the ‘powers of heaven’ will be shaken. These powers are not natural phenomena (e. g. the ‘order’ or ‘course’ of nature). In its original context the word meant forces or armies. It is inconceivable that angelic armies should be shaken, hence the word must, using the language of Ephesians, mean those imaginary forces reputed to exist in the heavens, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places. This collection of ‘powers’ was the pantheistic ragbag of Greece, Rome, Egypt, Babylon and the other ancient nations. These powers would lose their control over peoples’ minds because of the boldness of the Church in its preaching. They would make way for the Lamb of God to occupy heaven, and much later human scientific knowledge would reveal them to be no more than sterile masses of matter. Thus, the ‘principalities and powers’, the ‘powers of heaven’, ‘the host of heaven’ would soon lose their influence. Shortly, Clement of Alexandria would be derisory in his ‘Exhortation to the Gentiles’ about the apparent impotence of those gods, who had once seemed to be so active".
(1) R. Feldmeier, "Kosmokrator", in K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst, eds., Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) pp. 908-9.
(2) David Pitt-Francis, The Most Amazing Message Ever Written (Irchester: Mark Saunders Books, 1984) chapter 4.