One of my favorite novels is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti. This is a work of fiction that describes a spiritual battle over a small college town in middle America. The story blurs the distinction between the world we see and operate in with the supernatural world that surrounds us. What I find valuable about the story is that it makes that spiritual realm seem so real. A spiritual realm that is indeed very real, even though mostly hidden from us who live in the physical world.
While “This Present Darkness” was a work of fiction, the spiritual realm is very real. There is much we do not know about it, but the Scripture does give us some information. And I believe that it is important to be aware of the bigger picture around us. It will explain some of what is happening in the world we live in today.
The Reality of the Spiritual Realm
The spiritual realm is generally hidden from view. Our physical senses are not equipped to discern non-physical things. But there are times when we are allowed to see what is normally hidden. One time this happens is recorded in 2 Kings 6:15-17. The King of Aram had sent a force to capture Elisha the prophet of Israel. When the servant of Elisha saw the forces surrounding their town he was fearful. But then Elisha prayed that God would open his eyes to see their protection. And the servant then saw an army of horses and chariots of fire surrounding them. What a privilege to get a glimpse like that into the spiritual world.
In other places we see angels serving as messengers from God. Gabriel’s message to Zechariah concerning John the Baptist (Luke 1:11-15), and his message to Mary about the child she would carry (Luke 1:26-38) are two examples of this. You will also find examples in the Old Testament of angels sent to deliver a message. In Judges 6:11-16 an angel commissioned Gideon to deliver Israel from the Midianites. In Judges 13:2-5, an angel announced the birth of Samson to his mother. And in Daniel 8:15-16 the angel Gabriel was instructed to help Daniel understand the meaning of a vision. These are just a few of the many times that Scripture records angels interacting with humans.
But the spiritual realm contains more than God and the angelic beings. Hebrews 11 is a long list of people of faith from the Old Testament. And then chapter 12 starts off with “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1)”. This pictures the characters from chapter 11 filling a stadium and watching us live our lives, challenging us to also be faithful.
Conflict in the Spiritual Realm
But all is not at peace in the spiritual realm. The non-human beings in the spiritual realm seem to be divided between those who serve God and those who are in opposition to him. One of the things that Jesus consistently did was to cast out demons from people. These spiritual creatures were tormenting people, often causing physical ailments.
In addition to demons, the Scripture introduces us to what seems to be another class of evil spiritual being. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” I will come back to this verse later, but what we see here for now is that there are powerful spiritual beings in the heavenly, or spiritual, realms that are in opposition to God and his people.
Exactly what these four categories of spiritual beings represent is unclear. Are they four distinct classes? Or is this just a general descriptive summary of these beings? I tend toward the later, but since the Scripture is not more clear on it, I think it best to just see them as powerful, but evil, spiritual beings. Beings that maybe are on a par with angels.
One specific spiritual being is mentioned by name, or title. Satan, or the devil, is mentioned a number of times in the Scripture. We find him three times in the Old Testament. In 1 Chronicles 21:1 he incites David to count his fighting men. In Job chapters 1 & 2 Satan appears before God with the angels and challenges God concerning Job. And in Zechariah 3:1-2 Satan stands before God accusing Joshua the current high priest.
In the New Testament Satan is mentioned frequently. He tested Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism (Matt. 4:1-11). Satan entered into Judas, leading him to betray Jesus (Luke 22:3). Satan was involved in the lie Ananias and his wife told the apostles (Acts 5:3). Paul frequently talked about Satan as our enemy, seeking to outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11), and masquerading as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). And Peter described the devil as a roaring lion seeking to devour us (1 Pet. 5:8). The Dragon in Revelation (Rev. 12) also seems to be this same being.
Where Did Satan and His Minions Come From?
The origin of Satan and other evil spiritual powers and beings has been the source of much speculation. But, while the Scripture affirms their existence, it does little to satisfy our curiosity over their origin. Because of that, I believe we should be careful about being too dogmatic about any position concerning how Satan and his forces came to be.
Created for a Purpose
The one passage in Scripture that seems clear to me comes from Colossians 1:16. Here Paul says “For in him [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” ‘Thrones, powers, rulers and authorities’ is an expression that Paul uses elsewhere to identify the spiritual beings opposed to God’s rule (Eph. 6:12). And, if that is the case here, then we are told that these beings were created through Christ and for his purpose. They are not eternal, but have a beginning.
And they were created by God to fulfill some specific purpose. A purpose that I am confident they are even now fulfilling. While the Scripture does not provide us with any explicit purpose for Satan and the other spiritual forces of darkness, it does suggest some possibilities.
The first is as a tempter, something you see Satan doing from the beginning. We might view the temptation to disobey God to be undesirable. But the alternative is to obey only because there is no alternative. And is that really obedience?
A second purpose is to help us develop in maturity as believers. That might, on the surface, seem like a strange purpose for Satan, our avowed enemy, and one that he would not relish. Yet it is in trials and struggles that we grow. If we never faced any difficulties, we would remain as babes in Christ. But because we do face struggles, we are forced to depend on the Holy Spirit to enable us to endure and we grow in maturity.
The Kings of Babylon and Tyre
There are two other passages that are often thought to refer to the origin of Satan. Isaiah 14:12-15 is directed to the king of Babylon and Ezekiel 28:11-19 is a lament concerning the king of Tyre. But many see that these two passages are directed against Satan, the power behind their thrones. The passage in Ezekiel, especially, does seem to point to the fall of a guardian cherub who was cast from the mount of God because of his pride and sin.
But both of these passages are in the midst of a series of prophecies against the kings of the nations surrounding Judah. And it could just as easily be descriptive language of the actual kings. They may well be referring to Satan’s original position and fall. But I do not believe there is any way for us to know for sure.
Cast From Heaven
A final passage that may shed some light on the subject comes from Revelation 12:7-9. This passage describes a war in heaven. And in it Michael, the archangel, and his angels defeated Satan and his angels and cast them down to the earth.
The highly symbolic nature of Revelation makes me cautious about being too dogmatic about this passage. But it does suggest that Satan, and angels aligned with him, were once a part of the heavenly host who rebelled and were cast out. And after being cast out, they make war against the people of God. At least for a time.
Our Part in the Spiritual Struggle
Clearly there is a connection between the physical and spiritual realms. One of Jesus’ primary activities was casting demons from people. Spiritual beings who were afflicting physical beings. But are we just helpless pawns in this cosmic spiritual struggle between the forces of good and evil? Or do we have a part to play in the battle?
In 1 Peter 5:8-9 Peter tells us that “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” We are not helpless pawns. We can resist our spiritual adversaries and faithfully stand firm in the face of their opposition.
In Matthew 16:20, after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Jesus tells him “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” There is much that could be said about this verse. But for the purposes of this discussion, it does describe a conflict between Christ’s church and Hades, representing the forces of evil. And those evil forces will not be able to overcome the church. The church will prove victorious.
No discussion of our part in the spiritual struggle would be complete without looking at Ephesians 6:10-17 and Paul’s discussion of the armor God provides to his people.
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.Ephesians 6:11-13 NIV
As believers, we are directly engaged in this spiritual conflict. Satan, the devil, is our enemy. Along with the rulers, authorities, the powers of this dark world, and spiritual forces of evil. These are not flesh and blood. While our fight might sometimes appear to be against people, they are only being used by the real enemy.
On our own, we would fall before them. But we are not on our own. God has equipped us to be able to stand against this spiritual evil. To enter into the real fight. And when it is all over, to still be standing firm. Paul is not just telling us that we can enter the fight if we want to. Rather we are in the fight whether we want to be or not. But we can be victorious in it if we take advantage of what God has provided us with.
Participants in the Fight
Even though we generally do not see the spiritual forces that operate in ways unseen to us, they are real; there is evil in the spiritual realm. And many of them are seeking our destruction. Regardless where they came from, how many there are, or how powerful, they are our enemy. But we are not helpless before them. As believer’s in the Lord Jesus, we have been equipped to stand our ground against them. We are not just passive pawns in the great struggle over evil. We are called to be active participants in the fight.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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