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; see also this on Angelic Beings in 3 Enoch) 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 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!

This throne of power is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” The four terms Paul uses in this line can refer to human rulers, but in the context he has constantly used language similar to what a pagan Gentile might have used in a magical invocation of a god. These terms therefore describe spiritual rulers, authorities, powers and dominions. Since they are defeated by the power of God demonstrated in the resurrection, these are hostile, invisible powers working against God in this world (Arnold, Ephesians, 112).

This would be true in a Jewish context as well. In Daniel 10:12-14, the “prince of Persia” opposed the Gabriel when he was sent by God to deliver a message to Daniel. In the Second Temple Period, Jews developed an elaborate system of angels and demons using terms like rulers, authorities, powers and dominions to describe invisible forces at work in the world.

In fact, Jesus has been enthroned far above “every name that is named.” This is also consistent with the rest of Paul’s letters, Phil 2:9-11 makes the same point, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven, on earth and under the earth. Naming a hostile spiritual power was an important step in gaining mastery over it. (Jesus and Legion, for example, the sons of Sceva in Ephesus, Acts 19). Paul’s claim is that the name of Jesus is more powerful than any over so-called powerful name in all of reality!

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 the world did not really notice. But for Paul, the victory of sin, death, and the spiritual dark forces of this world has already been won.

If it is true the spiritual dark forces have already been defeated, how might that affect the way the Christian lives out their life?

 

 

13 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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  4. Perhaps you can compare these thoughts with 1 Cor. 2.8. Satan didn’t really know who Jesus was at the temptation. Satan must have concluded Jesus was just another forerunner when he entered Judas. Since Jesus had life “in Himself” (John 5.26) from the Father (indestructible life-Heb.7.16) He has power to conquer death and impart eternal life as His role as the second Adam (see Rom. 5). Had the rulers and authorities figured this out, they would have never allowed Christ to become the sacrifice and High Priest enabling redemption of the world.

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    • Yes, that the rulers in 1 Cor 2:8 are “spiritual dark forces” is a common view (and one that I more or less agree with). It is possible these are literal rulers (Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas), but the ultimate power behind the earthly power is demonic.

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  5. Throughout this blog post it has allowed me to reflect on the perspective of Spiritual Warfare. There is a battle going on around us between angels and demons constantly. This is because God is always fighting for us, but Satan is always looking to steal, kill and destroy. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”. By God sending His Son to die on the cross for our sins, this epidemic in History has restored generation after generation. As Christians we are saved and free from darkness, Satan can not have a hold on us in Jesus name. Daily we must rebuke this, rebuke the darkness and tricks that the devil is scheming. Throughout each day what we hear on the news; murders, shootings, or political schemes, they all show for the darkness that is always around us.
    Ephesians 1:20 gives us a fresh perspective that when God raised Jesus from the dead and set Him at the right hand of God, that was it. The work had been finished and God had won the victory. Although there is Spiritual Warfare, the dark forces have been defeated. As they were defeated when Christ defeated the cross, that did not mean that the devil was gone. There still is light and darkness, there will be until Jesus returns and the Kingdom of Heaven takes its rightful position in this crumbling world. As Christians we need to remember that we can walk in freedom and victory each new day. Matthew 6:33 says to seek first the Kingdom of God. If we all do so, this generation will be rocked. Walls and chains will be broken even more so then they already are being. We are a chosen generation and Paul’s message to the Ephesians is being fulfilled even today.

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  6. Although the spiritual dark forces have been defeated, Christians need to be on guard and seeking a spiritual awareness from God. Many Christian may ignore or forget about the spiritual realm. Christians can always be praising God for His deed on the cross for the world.

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  7. The spiritual realm on this earth is a reality that people are either aware of or ignore. As Christians, we understand the gravity of the spiritual forces that are working but I think at times we give the evil forces too much credit. I took a class freshman year with Mcgillicuddy and we talked about this very idea. We discussed the fact that we give Satan and the evil forces too much credit and assume that they are powerful of everything and can do anything; whereas we’ll put God in a box of things that he “can” and “can’t” do. I assume that at times the evil forces are at work and even dominate parts of this earth, and it can cause a person to live in fear of the dangers of life. Fully realizing that God has already defeated the evils of this world allows for so much more confidence and boldness in God. He gives us courage to know that he is the most powerful and dependable. The courage that this passage brings can change a person’s life from fear and anxiety to bravery. Not only will God win in the end – he has already won. We are on the winning team and despite how difficult and scary life can be, God has overcome.

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  8. It is hard to imagine a constant Spiritual battle around you everywhere you go but it is always happening. Every decision, every choice in itself is a spiritual battle. But when Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave, he won that battle. Jesus has already conquered sin and darkness. So, since Jesus has already freed us from our bondage that means we have nothing to fear. The spiritual battle that happens every day is the battle over your heart, over your thoughts and over your actions. Please GOd through these things or disobey and seek selfish desires. As, Christians, it is important to remember Jesus’ victory, we do not really mention Jesus’ crucifixion as a victory but it truly is. He has taken away our death and has replaced it with life. We need to live like it, to show people the life that is in Jesus Christ. We literally have nothing to fear on this earth because our King in Heaven has already conquered all and is in control and he loves us. 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” We have life through Jesus Christ and trusting Him and putting our full faith in Him is the only way for us to live fearlessly in a world full of battles.

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  9. I think that the knowledge that dark spiritual forces have been defeated should give Christians courage and motivation to live their lives without fear. We know that the bible talks a lot about fear and how we should not allow fear to control our lives and I think that these potential dark forces are what cause a lot of fear in Christians. The fear of not being enough, the fear of failure, fear because of doubts, etc. there are so many outside forces that cause us to fear, but as Christians we need to remember that fear is a liar, and that we ought only trust in God. God is in control, not any dark force that would seek to control our thoughts and actions, we are set free from these dark forces because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for us. Our trust in God is what will help us eliminate our worldly fears. I know in my personal life that I have a lot of fear when it comes to my life, I worry and fear what the future has in store, will I get the right job, will I have a family, and many more. But it is good reminder to me that God is in control and that he has defeated these evil forces for my sake.

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  10. Even though Jesus’s death has defeated the demonic natures of the world, the devil still uses all sorts of manipulated ways to disrupt our faith. As illustrated in the accounts of both the Old and New Testament, Satan is crafty and creative in the ways he attacks the Christian faith. As Peter 5:8 states, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. Though the devil has been defeated he still lurks in the shadows, and as Christians, we should be aware of the tactics he uses to pull us apart from God’s grip. However, God gave us a way to defend and prepare ourselves against attacks from Satan. God encourages us to live strong in our faith but also to put on His armor of truth and righteousness. As Ephesians 6:13 declares, “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”. Activating God’s armor can be done by continues prayer, worship, and service. All in all, as Christians, we should live our lives aware of the schemes and tactics Satan uses to dismantle our faith.

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