What are the Powers of this Age in Ephesians 1:20?

Several times in Ephesians Paul mentions rulers and authorities, powers and dominions. Most commentators observe Paul has spiritual forces in view when he uses this kind of language. By the first century, Judaism had developed a complicated view of angelic and demonic forces which operated “behind the scenes.” Sometimes these dark forces were responsible for persecution or troubles for God’s people. In Daniel, for example, an angel tells Daniel he was delayed by the “prince of Persia” (10:21) and did not escape until Michael (the prince of Israel) came to assist him. 1 Enoch 1-36 (The Book of the Watchers) offers a detailed description of demonic activity before the flood.

PAradise LostTimothy Gombis develops this view of powers and dominions as the main thesis of his book The Drama of Ephesians. This book argues Paul is using imagery of spiritual warfare drawn form the Hebrew Bible to describe what Jesus has done on the cross.  Using Ephesians 1:20-23, for example, Gombis points out that Paul says that Jesus was vindicated by being raised to the right hand of the father in heaven.

This is a place of authority which is far above every ruler, authority,  power and dominion.  These are spiritual forces at work in the world, the actors in the apocalyptic drama, as Gombis describes Ephesians.  Jesus has an authority which is so high above every spiritual thing in creation that it does not even make sense that human rulers should be considered as competitors to Jesus’ rule and authority!

Rome, in Paul’s view of spiritual reality, does not really count for all that much.  If the “rulers of this age” are the spiritual forces behind Rome, and if those spiritual forces have already been defeated, then the Empire itself is doomed to defeat.  This situation reminds me somewhat of the end of the Soviet Union.  The “union” dissolved so quickly that I imagine there were many people living in areas formerly controlled by the USSR that had no idea they were under a “new government.”  I always wondered if Gorbachev went to work one morning and found his offices “under new management,” although most of his staff just kept on working as if nothing had happened!

This is what happened when Jesus the Messiah, the Lord of the Universe, died and rose again.  The power of the spiritual forces of this dark age was broken – but it happened in such a way that the world did not really notice.  But for Paul, the victory has already been won and Rome has no real power anymore.

 

5 thoughts on “What are the Powers of this Age in Ephesians 1:20?

  1. What if if Paul is using imagery drawn not so much from the Hebrew Bible as from revelatory insight given by the Spirit and personal experience with spiritual warfare?

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    • I am sure both of those things are true, he was guided by the Holy Spirit to write the letter and had experienced a great deal of spiritual oppression during his ministry. The background I discuss above is the world Paul lived in, everyone thought this way.

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  2. I think it is good to look at this. Stating the Jesus has authority above every spiritual thing is a good indication of how Paul saw Jesus’ authority. He does not seem to think that Rome is really that big of an issue, nor the spiritual forces behind it because he already knows that the spiritual war is won through Jesus death and resurrection. As mentioned, the world did not know that these forces have been defeated, but that’s the thing about Paul. He already knew these forces were broken by Christ.

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  3. Paul gives so much power and authority to Jesus. For Paul to acknowledge that Jesus is above all forces of this earth and spiritual forces in heaven it first shows how much faith Paul has in Jesus and also how Jesus is not a part of this world. During the time of Paul the emperor or king was the one that was seen as heavenly and holding all the power, but since Paul mentions Jesus becoming that it was almost seen as the emperor not having any power. This travels over to today’s time I would think that no matter the president, or king, queen, dictator in “charge” Jesus reigns over all, which in some countries can be seen a dangerous notion. But Paul makes it very clear his stance “as the resurrected, reigning One, Christ rules over all things for all time for the sake of the church, his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way”. (TTP, 249)

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