The Spirit Who Now Works In The Sons Of Disobedience

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It is written:

Ephesians 2:1-3-And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2  in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3  among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

In this passage of Scripture, the Apostle to the Gentiles teaches us a great deal about Satan and his forces. Remembering that the Ephesians had a heavy background in occultism and the magic arts, Paul draws upon this knowledge to remind them of the power that Satan and his host wield in the world of man. Indeed, the Apostle makes it clear that Satan’s power is at work in the world of men.

Writing of the Greek of which this passage is written, Arnold expounds upon this passage. He also shows the first-century context of these statements and what we can learn from them. Please consider his words.

“The second powerful influence that formerly held the readers in bondage to sin was the devil. Far from simply stating this fact, Paul elaborates on this being and his work with a descriptive series of expressions. In characterizing him as “the ruler” (ὁ ἄρχων), Paul uses the primary title given to Satan in John’s gospel (“ the ruler of this world,” ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου; John 12: 31; 14: 30; 16: 11). Satan is also referred to as “the ruler of the demons” (ὁ ἄρχων τῶν δαιμονίων) in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt 9: 34; 12: 24; Mark 3: 22; Luke 11: 15). This usage can be traced back to apocalyptic, especially the book of Daniel, where the Theodotian text (a second-century AD form of the Greek OT text) uses the term in reference to the angelic powers over the nations (e.g., “the ruler of the Persians” and “the ruler of the Greeks”; cf. Dan 10: 13, 20). On one other occasion Paul uses the term to refer to demonic powers (1 Cor 2: 6, 8). This evil angelic ruler wields control over a realm (ἐξουσία), which Paul describes as “the air” (τοῦ ἀέρος). This is a different usage of the term ἐξουσία than the way it is used elsewhere in the letter (Eph 1: 21; 3: 10: 6: 12), where it is used in the plural and denotes demonic beings. Here it refers to the sphere of the ruler’s influence. It has this sense also in Col 1: 13. By analogy with earthly political power, it is used to refer to Herod’s jurisdiction (Luke 23: 7). This is the only time, however, that Paul (or for that matter, any other biblical author) speaks of “the air” (ὁ ἀήρ) as the domain of Satan. The idea of “the air” as a place where demons were active is well-known in Judaism. This can be seen in a first-century Jewish document: “For the person who fears God and loves his neighbor cannot be plagued by the aerial spirit of Beliar since he is sheltered by the fear of God” (T. Benj. 3: 4). Similarly, Philo speaks of demons as hovering in the air (Philo, On Giants 1.6, 8) and 1 Enoch as dwelling in the clouds (1 En. 15: 10–11). This was also a common conception for any of Paul’s readers who had participated in magical practices, where the notion of “aerial spirits” and “aerial powers” was common. One magical text has the petition, “protect me from every demon in the air” (PGM IV. 2699). Another one says, “I conjure you by the one who is in charge of the air (κατὰ τοῦ ἔχοντος τὸν ἀέρα)” (PGM CI. 39). Air is a particularly apt metaphor for the realm of spirits because they are invisible. In fact, the very word “spirit” (πνεῦμα) could also be used for “wind.” Paul goes on to describe the devil as “the spirit” who is now “powerfully working” (ἐνεργοῦντος) in non-Christians. The English adverb “powerfully” was chosen to help translate this word because it is a power-denoting term that implies more than the idea of simply “working in” (e.g., ποιῶν ἐν), especially in this context. The word is present in a Jewish text describing the influence of evil spirits on people: “As you forsake the Lord, you will live in every evil deed … and the spirits of deception will be powerfully working (ἐνεργούντων) in you to accomplish every evil act” (T. Dan 5: 5; translation mine). The same concept is dramatically present in a first-century Jewish text that reflects on the reign of Manasseh, king of Judah: Manasseh did not remember the commands of his father … and served Satan and his angels and his powers (δυνάμεσιν)…. And he turned the house of his father away from the service of God and served the devil … and he [the devil] strengthened (καταδυναμόω) him in the apostasy and in the lawlessness which he sowed in Jerusalem. And he multiplied the sorcery and the magic and the divination. (Martyrdom of Isaiah 2: 1–5; translation mine) Here the leadership of Israel is seen as corrupt because of the direct influence of a hostile angel on the human political leader. The expression “sons of disobedience,” although a strange expression to contemporary ears, is a Semitic way of referring to disobedient people. “Sons of …” can be seen regularly throughout the OT and NT as a way of characterizing people by the genitive expression that follows, which should be understood as an attributive genitive (e.g., [lit.], “sons of the covenant,” Ezek 30: 5; “sons of the light,” Luke 16: 8; “sons of this age,” Luke 20: 34).” (Clinton Arnold, Ephesians: Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament, 212-214 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan)

Let’s notice several things.

First, Paul uses expressions here that were well-known and commonly understood in the first century world to refer to Satan and demonic forces. Some of these expressions are found in the Holy Scriptures (such as the references to the prince of Persia in Daniel 10:13, and Satan being the prince of this world in John 12:31, etc.); and some of these expressions are from other texts outside of the Bible. Paul clearly believed that Christians are on solid ground when they study uninspired writings to better understand inspired Scripture!

Second, notice that Satan and his host are working powerfully in those who are not saved. When we work with people who are not Christians, there is a power at work in them which would keep them in bondage. Elsewhere, Paul wrote:

2 Timothy 2:24-26-And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25  in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26  and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.

Please be aware of the fact that those who are lost have been taken captive by the devil to do his will. There is a spirit that is at work within the sons of disobedience. Demonic oppression is very real. Indeed, it is helpful to remember that other Jewish texts use the same phrases that Paul does here in Ephesians to refer to Satan and his forces “strengthening” people in their rebellion against God.

Third, the Apostle here also shows us what has the power to free people from these demonic influences: the Good News of Jesus Christ!

Ephesians 2:4-10-But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5  even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6  and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7  that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9  not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

These Ephesians had also once been under the influence and bondage of these demonic forces: yet God in His mercy had rescued them from this oppression by the power of Jesus Christ. This occurred when the Ephesians had been “raised up together ” with Christ. In Colossians, Paul says that this raising up occurs when we are baptized into Christ Jesus:

Colossians 2:11-15-In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12  buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13  And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14  having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15  Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

The Apostle here ties together where we are “raised together” and granted the victory…in and through the act of baptism! This is a powerful rebuke to those religious teachers who reject the act of baptism as part of God’s plan of salvation. Indeed, please notice that Paul here in Colossians tells us that it is through this Gospel that we are granted access to the Cross, which provides victory over the principalities and powers!

What are the principalities and powers in here in context?

“Rather, we should suppose a hierarchy of heavenly powers-“thrones” superior to “lordships,” and so on (see particularly Lightfoot 151-52). The “thrones” are assuredly to be located in heaven (cf. Dan. 7:9; Rev. 4:4; though cf. Wis. 7:8), not least because the word is used for heavenly beings in Testament of Levi 3:8 (in the seventh heaven, with “authorities”); 2 Enoch 20:1; and Apocalypse of Elijah 1:10-11. Likewise the “dominions” (xvptotirltiES) are almost certainly to be taken as referring to heavenly powers, in the light of Eph. 1:20-21 (also I Enoch 61:10 and 2 Enoch 20:1; F. Schroger, EDNT 2.332). But the same must be true of the “principalities” (apxai) and “authorities” (~4ovaiat) in the light of 2:10 and 15, not to mention the other New Testament parallels (I Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:21 again; 3:10; 6:12; see also on 2:10). The fact that all four terms thus refer only to the invisible, heavenly realm23 and the repeated emphasis on Christ’s supremacy and triumph over the “principalities and powers” in 2:10 and 15 do therefore strengthen the likelihood that the two lines were inserted by the author(s) of the letter, sacrificing the balance of the hymn in order to add a further reference to Christ’s superiority over all beings in heaven as well as on earth.” (James D.G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (The New International Greek Testament Commentary), 1291-1300 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

The Gospel has the power to free a person from the slavery of these beings. When the Lord commissioned Paul to preach the Word of God, He told him:

Acts 26:17-18- I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, 18  to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’

Those who are thus freed from the power of Satan must be vigilant, lest they bring themselves back under his power. Hence Paul told the Christians:

Ephesians 4:26-27-BE ANGRY, AND DO NOT SIN”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27  nor give place to the devil.

That phrase “nor give place to the devil” reminds us that children of God may again bring themselves under demonic oppression through willful sin that is unrepented of.

“Although it is possible to take this term in the metaphorical sense of “chance” or “opportunity,” 13 it is best interpreted according to its spatial significance of “place.” 14 This is in accord with the fact that spatial language abounds in this letter, especially as illustrated by Paul’s frequent use of the language of “filling” (πληρόω/ πλήρωμα; 3: 19; 4: 10; 5: 18) and indwelling (2: 22; 3: 17). It is also significant that the term “place” is used elsewhere in the NT to refer to the inhabiting place of an evil spirit. Luke records Jesus as saying, “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places (τόπων) seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left’ ” (Luke 11: 24). A similar usage is found in the Apocalypse: “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place (τόπος) in heaven” (Rev 12: 7–8). First-century Judaism saw anger as a magnet that attracted the working of an evil spirit: “Anger and falsehood together are a double-edged evil, and work together to perturb the reason. And when the soul is continually perturbed, the Lord withdraws from it and Beliar rules it” (T. Dan 4: 7; see also 5: 1). In fact, the same work speaks of a “spirit of anger” that attacks the people of God (T. Dan 1: 8; 2: 1, 4). The earliest allusions to Eph 4: 27 interpret “place” spatially and speak of anger and sinful practices as making one susceptible to the work of a demonic spirit (see Herm. Mand. 5.1.3; 12.5.1–4; Origen, Princ. 2.3.4). Paul presents “the devil” as a powerful being that needs to be resisted (6: 11). He is the same entity that Paul referred to earlier as “the ruler of the realm of the air, the spirit who is now powerfully working in the sons of disobedience” (2: 2). The early Christians also knew him as Satan (Rev 12: 9; 20: 2). As ruler of a realm of spirits, it is unlikely that he is personally assailing every Christian, but is assigning his spirit emissaries to do this work. By allowing anger to fester and grow, believers can surrender space to a demonic intruder. This is how Origen understood this passage. He warned believers that by thinking intently about and following the wrong inclinations of the soul, “these assents summon the devil to enter our souls” (citing Judas as an example; John 13: 2, 27). 15 Similarly, Ambrosiaster notes, “An angry mind will necessarily think evil thoughts, as the devil desires. If the devil finds a mind ready for evil and slipping toward it, he deceives the person who was created for life. The thought, you see, is human. But the devil completes it.” 16 Calvin notes, “I have no doubt that Paul was warning us to beware lest Satan should take possession of our minds, like an enemy-occupied fortress, and do whatever he pleases.” 17 Similarly, Robinson warned that persisting anger “gives immediate opportunity for the entry of an evil spirit.” 18 This does not mean that believers forfeit their new identity in Christ; Paul presents this new creation and new identity as a firmly established fact. It does mean that the Holy Spirit is grieved (4: 30) and that the demonic spirit has a new ability to exploit the believer. O’Brien is probably correct in observing that this warning not only provides a motivation for controlling anger, but is equally applicable to any behavior that is characteristic of the old self. 19 The implication of this would be that unchecked sinful behavior will eventually yield a place to the enemy to further his goals of stunting the sanctifying work of God.” (Clinton Arnold, Ephesians: Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament, 512-514 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

When we work with our friends who are not Christians, let us remember the reality of demonic oppression. We need to present the Gospel truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), even as we pray for them to see their need for redemption:

Luke 22:31-32-And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32  But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

Mark 9:29-So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

Romans 10:1-Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-3-Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, 2  and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. 3  But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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