The prince of darkness grim we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him. 1
Christians will use all types of excuses to keep themselves out of today’s religious-moral-cultural battles. One of the most diabolical excuses is to claim that Satan is the rightful god of this world. This translates into believing that this world is demonic. Let’s see what the Bible actually says about this.
Satan is a creature. Like all creatures, he has certain limitations. Even under the Old Covenant, Satan had to be granted permission by God before he could act (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7). Satan’s limitations have been multiplied since the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.
The Bible shows us that if we “resist the devil he will flee from” us (James 4:7). The only power that Satan has over the Christian is the power we give him and the power granted to him by God (2 Cor. 12:7-12). Scripture tells us that Satan is defeated, disarmed, and spoiled (Col. 2:15; Rev. 12:7; Mark 3:27). He has “fallen” (Luke 10:18) and was “thrown down” (Rev. 12:9). He was “crushed” under the feet of the early Christians, and by implication, under the feet of all Christians throughout the ages (Rom. 16:20). He has lost “authority” over Christians (Col. 1:13). He has been “judged” (John 16:11). He cannot “touch” a Christian (1 John 5:18). His works have been destroyed (1 John 3:8). He has “nothing” (John 14:30). He must “flee” when “resisted” (James 4:7). He is “bound” (Mark 3:27; Luke 11:20). Finally, the gates of hell “shall not overpower” the advancing church of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 16:18).2 Surely Satan is alive, but he is not well on planet earth.
So then, what does Paul mean when he describes Satan as “the god of this world,” actually, “of this age”? (2 Cor. 4:4). To hear some people tell it, this verse teaches that Satan has all power and authority in this dispensation and in the locale of planet earth. Where God is the God of heaven and of the age to come, Satan is the god of this world and this present evil age. This dualistic view of the universe may be part of Greek philosophy, but it has no place in biblical theology.
While it’s true that the devil is said to be the god of this age,3 we know that God is “the King of the ages” (1 Tim. 1:17). Paul is simply stating that Satan is the chosen god of those who deny Jesus as God’s rightful heir of all things (Matt. 22:1-14). These are the true antichrists (2 John 2:7; 1 John 2:18). Jesus is in possession of “all authority,” in both heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18-20). In addition, we know that Satan’s power has not increased since Job’s day. He is still a permission-seeking creature. This is especially true under the new and better covenant inaugurated by Jesus Christ. As the above verses make clear, Satan is a second-class creature who has been cast out and judged: “The ruler of this world shall be cast out” (John 12:31); “the ruler of this world has been judged” (16:11).
What, then, does the apostle mean when he describes Satan as “the god of this age”? First, we must never allow one passage to finalize our understanding of a particular doctrine. Scripture must be compared with Scripture. There are no contradictions. Therefore, we can’t have the Bible saying of the one true God, “I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God” (Isa. 45:5) and then making Satan a rival god. Paul must have something else in mind. We can’t say that Satan has been judged and cast out, something that does not happen to gods, and still maintain that he is the god of this world similar to the way Jehovah is God of this world. Paul is making a theological point. For example, Jesus tells the Pharisees that the devil is their father (John 8:44). We know that Satan is not their biological father. Rather, he is their spiritual father in that they rejected their true Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Physically these Jews, to be sure, are children of Abraham; but spiritually and morally–and that was the issue–they are the children of the devil.4
Jesus is describing the devil as one who gives birth to a worldview, a worldview that includes lying and murder. In this sense, Satan is their spiritual father. In the same way, Satan is a god to those who cling to the fading glory of Moses, “the ministry of death” (2 Cor. 3:7). This is the age over which he is a god, an age that “has no glory on account of the glory that surpasses it” (v. 10).
Second, the devil is chosen as a god by “those who are perishing,” and he must blind them before they will follow him: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). This passage teaches that unbelievers are fooled into believing that “the old covenant” where the “veil remains unlifted” is the way to life (v. 14). Satan is the god of the “ministry of death.” The “god of this age” keeps them in bondage, “but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (v. 16). Liberty from the ministry of death only comes where the Spirit of Lord is: “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (v. 17). But Satan has blinded the eyes of the unbelieving so they cannot see the lifted veil. They are still trusting in the shadows of the Old Covenant.
Third, like idols in general, the devil is “by nature” not a god (Gal. 4:8; cf. Deut. 32:17; Ps. 96:5; Isa. 44:9-20; 1 Cor. 8:4; 10:20). This includes the devil. In Philippians 3:19, Paul tells us that those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ” worship “their appetite”: “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is there appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” The appetite is not a god, but it can be chosen as a god.
Fourth, the only way Satan can pass himself off as a god is to first blind his victims. Keep in mind that Jesus described the devil as “a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Though Satan masquerades as a god, this does make him a god.
Satan wishes, albeit vainly, to set himself up as God, and sinners, in rebelling against the true God, subject themselves to him who is the author of their rebellion. The unregenerate serve Satan as though he were their God. They do not thereby, however, escape from the dominion of the one true God. On the contrary, they bring themselves under His righteous judgment; for Satan is a creature and not a God to be served (cf. Rom. 1:18, 25). Just as there is one in the world and every pretended alternative to it is a false no-gospel, so there is only one God of the universe and every other “deity” whom men worship and serve is a false no-god.5
When all the evidence is in we learn that Satan is the god of an age that was passing away. “This age” and “this world” are used “in an ethical sense,” denoting “the immoral realm of disobedience rather than the all-inclusive, extensive scope of creation,” representing “the life of man apart from God and bound to sinful impulses, a world “ethically separated from God.”6 Calling Satan the “god of this age” is more a reflection on the condition of “this age” than the real status of the devil. Chrysostom comments that “Scripture frequently uses the term god, not in regard of the dignity that is so designated, but of the weakness of those in subjection to it; as when he calls mammon lord and belly god: but the belly is neither therefore God nor mammon Lord, save only of those who bow themselves to them.”7
When the church makes Satan the “god of this age,” it has fallen for one of the devil’s schemes–giving him a lot more credit and power than he deserves. He is quite satisfied in having anyone believe one of his lies.
- Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” third verse.(↩)
- The material on Satan was taken from Jay E. Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), 126-27.(↩)
- The Greek word in this passage is “age” (Gr. “aion”).(↩)
- William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John, New Testament Commentary, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1953-54), 2:60.(↩)
- Philip E. Hughes, Commentary on the Second Epistle of the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962, 127.(↩)
- Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Person, Work, and Present Status of Satan,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Symposium on Satanism, ed. Gary North, 1:2 (Winter, 1974), 22.(↩)
- Quoted in Hughes, Commentary on the Second Epistle of the Corinthians, 128.(↩)