Satan As Ruler of the Kingdoms of the World

By Walton Weaver

When Satan told Jesus he would give him “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,” if he would fall down and worship him, it is implied that he had such power and control over these kingdoms and their glory, to deliver them into his hands. What is implied in Matthew 4:9 is expressly asserted by him in Luke 4:6: “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomever 1 will I give it.” Whether Satan actually possessed the power and authority he claims for himself in these passages has been a much debated subject.

Since God himself is the Almighty, and the Bible does not teach dualism (that the world is under the control of two equal forces of good and evil, God and Satan), Satan could have no power except what has been committed to him. Whatever power he had was his only because it had been “delivered” to him. The extent of his rule is clearly indicated when he is called “the prince of this world” On. 12:31), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). In 2 Corinthians 4:4 he is called “the god of this world.” John says that “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 Jn. 5:19), and Revelation 12:9 attributes this to the fact that “that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, . . . deceiveth the whole world.” That Satan does not, however, have equal power with God is affirmed when of Christ it is said that “one stronger than he” had come to “assail and overcome him” (Lk. 11:22).

A Closer Look

We will take a more careful look at those passages just cited which describe Satan’s power in the world.

1. The Prince of this world (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 15:10). The word “prince” in the Bible is not used just to refer to the heir of a king. It is also used as a title of a person with significant royal, military, or other authority (see Num. 22:15). The term was chosen by the KJV translators to translate more specific foreign titles (Dan. 1:3; 3:2; “nobles” and “satraps,” NASB). At other times the word is used to identify a high ranking angel in the spiritual realm. Daniel 10:13, for example, names “Michael, one of the chief princes,” and the reference seems clearly to be a high ranking angel. As a high ranking angel, Michael is also called “the prince of Israel” (Dan. 10:21) and the “great prince” (Dan. 12:1). In Matthew 12:24 Beelzebub is called “the prince of the devils” (better “demons,” and evidently a reference to angels who had fallen from their high estate). In this last passage, and in John 12:31, later versions like the RSV, NIV, NKJV and the NASB translate the word “ruler,” but the KJV and the ASV have the word “prince.”

The “world” over which Satan rules is mankind in alienation from God. While the world appears to be Satan’s empire, or his sphere of operation, as a matter of fact, what he produces in the world (sin and death) becomes his empire. The “world” in this ethical sense is laden in sin and in need of salvation. In this realm men “loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19; cf. 1 John 2:15-17). Where sin reigns, spiritual death also reigns, for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

2. The Prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). The only difference in this passage and the one just considered is that the terms “the world” are replaced by the terms “the power of the air” (i.e., “the air” the atmosphere around the earth). Why this particular mention of “the air” as the place where Satan is cannot be known for certain. It may mean no more than that the air is the place where Satan dwells as the chief ruler, or prince, of the demons, or evil spirits. It probably means that the air is the place where such spirits live, and Satan is the prince of all such spirits who have the air as their place of abode. The Jews of Paul’s day believed that the air was Satan’s sphere of dominion, and Paul evidently teaches it as a matter of fact in this statement.

The word “power” means rule or dominion. Paul’s point is that Satan is the “ruler” (RSV, NKJV, NIV) of all evil forces who reside in the atmosphere around the earth. Other passages show that he, and all other wicked spirits under his authority, do their work in the world, but in this passage Paul affirms that they have the air or atmosphere around the earth as their place of abode. Even Christians do not struggle “against flesh and blood,” Paul says, “but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). “Darkness” is representative of the realm in which these evil forces rule; their dominion is in the area of ignorance, superstition, and sin. In this sense they rule over this dark world. Their actual sphere of operation is identified in this passage as “in high places” (same as 1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:18, “in heavenly places”). Perhaps here it means the unseen realm in the world, including both good and evil forces. The phrase does not appear to be equivalent to “the air” in Ephesians 2:2. It does not have this meaning in any of the other places where it is used in the book of Ephesians.

3.The God of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). Only here in the New Testament is Satan called a “god.” All attempts to apply the term in this passage to the only true God rather than Satan have proved unsuccessful and are unnecessary. The word is a fitting description of Satan when it is used as Paulmeans for it to be understood. A similar use of the word appears in Philippians where Paul says of certain Judaizers, “whose god is their belly” (3:19). Like Romans 16:18, “for they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly,” the term “belly” in this passage is used to describe the desires of the flesh. To serve one’s belly is to make one’s fleshly desires one’s “god,” or the principle thing with him. In this same way, when those in the world give themselves to serve Satan, or he becomes the principle thing in their lives, he becomes their god. The “world” in this passage is humanity who has given itself to serve Satan. In this sense Satan is “the god of this world.”

4. The Deceiver of the whole world (Rev. 12:7). The whole world has plunged into sin because all those who are in the world have been “deceived” by “the great dragon, . . . the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan.” The latter two terms tell us that this great “deceiver” is man’s accuser or slanderer (= the Devil), and man’s arch adversary, the one who stands as our opponent and antagonist (_ Satan). The two terms describe his true character. As the “deceiver of the whole world” it should be remembered that … it was by deception that the world of mankind was plunged into sin (1 Tim. 2:14), and by which he has continued since to control men (12:9; 20:3, 8, 10). It is by deception that false religion, symbolized by the beast out of the earth, also gains adherents (13:14; 19:20); and it is by deception that worldliness, signified by the harlot, the great city, seduces her victims (18:23). Expose and remove the deception of sin and its power is nullified (Homer Hailey).

Temptation No. 1: What would be Jesus’ personal lot during the period of his ministry? Would he avoid personal suffering through the use of his special power as the Son of God? Why should he as the Son of God have to suffer hunger as other men do? Could he not avoid such suffering through the use of his own power as God’s Son? Satan knew that he could have done so, and this was the nature of the first temptation. Jesus’ response was that bread was important, but bread alone was not the important thing. He would not use his divine power to satisfy his own personal needs in order to avoid suffering.

Temptation No. 2: Would Jesus use spectacular display of himself and his power in order to get a following? Surely high acclaim would have been given him by the crowds below if only he would cast himself down from the highest point of the temple and trust God to bring him safely to the ground below. If he would leap from the wall, God would charge the angels to bear him up. Such a display would no doubt appeal to the Messianic aspirations of the crowds. They would likely hail him as “he that should come.” But, again, Jesus knew this was the easy way, and a way that would only be chosen by one who was determined to avoid the way of suffering. To do what Satan suggested would presume upon God’s favor by putting him to a test to see if he would keep his word. He refused to tempt God in this way. His spiritual ends were not to be accomplished by unspiritual means.

Temptation No. 3: Would Jesus attempt to accomplish his mission through political power? This was the kind of Messiah the people had expected and wanted. As Jesus looked out from the high mountain where he had been taken, he must have looked past the landscape to the political kingdoms of the world and envisioned them at his feet. At least this was what Satan intended for him to do. He offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.” Jesus successfully resisted the temptation by rejecting the devil’s methods to accomplish his mission. He would not attempt to avoid the way of suffering for selfish and ambitious reasons, i.e., love of power and a desire to rule politically over others. He saw that surrender to Satan in this way would mean a divided loyalty, and he could not accomplish his true mission except through complete trust in God and service to him. This could be accomplished only through suffering.

In the third temptation Satan was not offering Jesus a way to accomplish his true mission. He was attempting to turn Jesus away from that accomplishment through worldly ambition. Jesus could not have saved the souls of men by establishing a worldly kingdom. Satan did not take him to that high mountain to show him the souls of men which he had come to save, but to show him “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.” As Luke 4:6 shows, it was the “power” and “glory” of these worldly kingdoms that Satan offered to Jesus. From that high mountain Jesus saw beautiful lands, towns, cities, and mountains, in addition to all the peoples of these kingdoms, and the temptation was to have the authority to rule over all that was included in these “kingdoms of the world,” and the “glory” that would accompany this vast political power and all the possessions that would come with it.

2. Could Satan Have Delivered On His Offer To Jesus? Was there an attempt at deception involved here? Did Satan really have the power he claimed for himself when he said, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish” (Lk. 4:6, NASB)? What is the likely answer to this question?

J.W. McGarvey thought that “Satan’s promise to give Jesus the kingdom, when considered in connection with the capacities of Jesus himself, involves no very arrogant assumption of power.” Even though “the whole world lieth in wickedness,” it is not because Satan exercises in any sense absolute sway over the world. He could not give the domain and glory of the world to whomever he chose, and yet this is presumed in his offer to Jesus. Whatever ground he has gained in the world is not his by right. J.S. Lamar is quite right when he says that Satan’s “suggestion means . . . that they [the kingdoms of the world, ww] have been rightly delivered to him, i. e., by Him who alone possesses all things, and this is false.” His claim that the earth (all the kingdoms in the world, and their glory) had been delivered to him was, however, partially true. This is the meaning of those passages we have already considered. His claim that he could give it to whom he willed, however, was false. His lordship is limited in power and duration. This means that had Jesus met Satan’s demands he would have conceded that he did in fact own “all this” (power over the kingdoms and the glory that belongs to them) by right, and this simply was not the case. There is no doubt that Satan’s power is great, but there is a greater power, and Satan’s days were numbered. So it was with half-truth and half-falsehood, and using the Messianic hopes of Jesus’ own people whom he had come to save, that Satan assaulted the integrity of Jesus in the hope of saving himself and his “domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13, NASB).

Satan, in other words, was inviting Jesus to join forces with him. He offered him authority over the world. In making this offer was he not hoping to retain authority for himself in the rest of the universe? He saw his own power being challenged, and his offer to Jesus in this particular temptation appears to have been an attempt to compromise so as not to lose his entire domain. A part dominion was better than nothing. McGarvey concedes that there was a way Jesus could have become cohort with Satan and gained the prize offered to him. But for this to happen it would take more than Jesus simply surrendering and coming under the power and dominion of Satan. He says that “it is quite certain that if he had consented, and had not by this con-sent lost the power and wisdom which belonged to him, he could have attained in a short time to universal dominion” (emphasis mine, ww). Whatever success he would have had in this way would have been due, not to Satan’s power alone, but to Jesus’ own power and wisdom as well. The fact of the matter is, in spite of his bold claim, Satan did not exercise absolute sway over the whole world so that he could give a major part of his dominion away at his choosing.

Wherein Lay The Temptation?

What then was the nature and the force of the temptation brought against our Lord here? For one thing, he was tempted to concede that Satan exercised absolute lordship in the universe. Had Jesus given in to worship and serve him he would have been saying by his action that God did not occupy the position of total Lordship in the universe. John P. Lange correctly observes, “The point of the temptation lay in the boldness of the design  Satan spreading out all at once a rushing picture of absolute sway over the world and of its glory, and then offering all this to the lowly and rejected Son of David, who of right could claim all the nations of the world as His inheritance, and the utmost ends of the world as his possession.”

Another aspect of this temptation would have been the attempt on Satan’s part to influence Jesus to establish the kingdom of Jewish expectation by outward power and pomp. This was the very role the Jews had expected their coming Messiah to fill. The desire Satan hoped to excite was that of worldly ambition. If he could but divert Jesus’ attention away from his mission in the world, which was to seek and to save the lost, his own mission would have been accomplished, and he could at least have saved a part of the universe for himself to exercise lordship over. But Jesus could not have established the true kingdom of God on earth had he given in to Satan’s conditions. He would only have become ruler of the kingdoms of the world. Like the other temptations that had gone before, the attempt here was to turn Jesus away from the accomplishment of his true mission in the world.

But Jesus, in his resolve to accomplish his mission and to do the Father’s will, stood firm. For the third time he made a direct appeal to the word of God: “Then Jesus said unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord they God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:10). By using the term “Satan” Jesus exposed his true character and showed him to be the adversary that he was. By telling him to get out of his sight he showed both his great enmity toward him, and all the evil that he represents in the world, as well as his resolve to withstand his appeal. The rebellion was put down. The strong man was being cast out. God still reigns in the universe, and Jesus surely would destroy “every rule and every authority and power” set against God (1 Cor. 15:24).

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 12, p. 22-24
June 17, 1993