A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 6:10-12. 1). The enemy we face.
A thorough knowledge of the enemy and a healthy respect for his prowess are a necessary preliminary to victory in war. Similarly, if we underestimate our spiritual enemy, we shall see no need for God’s armour, we shall go out to the battle unarmed, with no weapons but our own puny strength, and we shall be quickly and ignominiously defeated.
So in between his summons to seek the Lord’s strength and put on God’s armour on the one hand (verses 10-11) and his itemizing of our weapons on the other (verses 13-20) Paul gives us a full and frightening description of the forces arrayed against us (verse 12). *For we are not contending against flesh and blood*, he writes, *but against the principalities, against the powers*. In other words, our struggle is not with human beings (That ‘flesh and blood’ means ‘human beings’ in their present mortal human nature is clear from Mt.16:17; 1 Cor.15:50; Gal.1:16 and Heb.2:14) but with cosmic intelligences; our enemies are not human but demonic. Paul’s Asian readers were quite familiar with this fact. They doubtless remembered – or would have heard about – the incident of the Jewish exorcists in Ephesus who were rash enough to try to dismiss an evil spirit in the name of Jesus without themselves knowing the Jesus whose name they used. Instead of succeeding in their attempt, they were overpowered by the demoniac and fled in panic, *naked and battered* (Acts 19:13-17). This kind of happening may have been common. For Paul’s Ephesian converts had previously dabbled in the occult and then made a public bonfire of their valuable books of magic. Such a direct challenge to the forces of evil will not have gone unheeded (Acts 19:18-20).
The forces arrayed against us have three main characteristics. First, they are powerful. Whether ‘principalities’ and ‘powers’ refer to different ranks of evil spirits in the hierarchy of hell we do not know, but both titles draw attention to the power and authority they wield. They are also called *the world rulers of this present darkness*. The word *kosmokratores* was used in astrology of the planets which were thought to control the fate of mankind, in the Orphic Hymns of Zeus, in rabbinical writings of Nebuchadnezzar and other pagan monarchs, and in various ancient inscriptions of the Roman emperor. All these usages exemplify the notion of a worldwide rule. When applied to the powers of evil they are reminiscent of the devil’s claim to be able to give Jesus ‘all the kingdoms of the world’, of the title ‘the ruler of this world’ which Jesus gave him, and of John’s statement that ‘the whole world is in the power of the evil one’ (Mt.4:8-9; Jn.12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 1 Jn.5:19. cf. also Eph.2:2). These texts do not deny our Lord’s decisive conquest of the principalities and powers, but indicate that as usurpers they have not conceded defeat or been destroyed. So they continue to exercise considerable power.
Secondly, they are wicked. Power itself is neutral; it can be well used or misused. But our spiritual enemies use their power destructively rather than constructively, for evil not for good. They are the worldwide rulers *of this present darkness*. They hate the light and shrink from it. Darkness is their natural habitat, the darkness of falsehood and sin. They are also described as *the spiritual hosts of wickedness*, which operate *in heavenly places*, that is, in the sphere of invisible reality. They are ‘spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil’ (JBP). So then ‘darkness’ and ‘wickedness’ characterize their actions, and ‘the appearance of Christ on earth was the signal for an unprecedented outburst of activity on the part of the realm of darkness controlled by these world-rulers’. If we hope to overcome them, we shall need to bear in mind that they have no moral principles, no code of honour, no higher feelings. They recognize no Geneva Convention to restrict or partially civilize the weapons of their warfare. They are utterly unscrupulous, and ruthless in the pursuit of their malicious designs.————————
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians: Being a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.