5-25 The Wiles Of The Devil
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”.
This is taken to indicate that there are wicked spirits in heaven
who are making the world sinful, against whom we have to fight. These
spirits/angels are thought to be super-human in power.
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
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”
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.
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
"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) David Pitt-Francis, The Most Amazing Message Ever Written
(Irchester: Mark Saunders Books, 1984) chapter 4.