Part Two: Some Questions You May Be Asking
First read part 1 here.
“How do we know Satan wasn’t lying? He is after all the “Father of lies” (John 8:44)”
This is a very important question!
If we are to come to the conclusion that earthly governments are good, and we should therefore dedicate our efforts to restoring such a “good government”, we must first be able to conclude that Satan is not really the one in charge of human governments.
Is that a conclusion we can draw? Well, for one thing, you’re right about Satan. We can’t trust a single word that slips from his forked tongue.
But it is worthy of notice that Jesus never questioned the truth of His claim. This event is also described as a “temptation”. If Jesus believed Satan was lying to him, and was therefore unable to deliver on his promise, could we still say that his was a temptation?
But perhaps more importantly, we have the fact that Satan was not the only one to make this claim. Jesus several times refers to Satan as the “prince” or “ruler” of the world (John 12.31; 14.30; 16.11). Paul says that he is the “god of this world” and “the prince of the power of the air” (2 Cor. 4.4; Eph. 2:2). John says “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5.18).
So no, we can’t necessarily trust that Satan was telling the truth, but I think it is fairly safe to assume that Jesus, Paul and John were telling the truth.
“But Jesus is continually described as the King of Kings. We continually read that God rules over the nations. Jesus said in Matthew 28:18, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” How then can we say that Satan rules human governments?”
Great question. This is why I said, under my 4th point that Satan rules human governments “sort of.” And we must conclude that there is at least a sense in which Satan does rule the nations, based on what we have observed already. But there is an even greater sense in which God always overrules Satan’s unlawful authority.
Since all authority has been given to Jesus, there is therefore no authority which has been given to Satan. So in whatever sense Satan does rule over the nations, his authority has been taken, not given. His “authority” is “unauthorized”.
When Satan is described as being the ruler of the world and the ruler of the kingdoms of this world, it seems to refer to this present evil system of opposition to God. As governments oppose God’s people, strive for earthly possession, kill their enemies, steal money, etc., they are in sinful rebellion to God. They are living under Satan’s control. Satan is leading their rebellion against God’s authority.
But the Bible never teaches that Satan is the ultimate ruler of this world. The book of Job gives us some insight into Satan’s limited power. Satan challenged God to remove Job’s blessings. God did allow Satan to remove Job’s blessings, but God restricted Satan from taking Job’s life. When Satan exercises his authority, it is because God allows him to do so (for now).
Another great example can be found in Isaiah 10:5-15. Isaiah teaches that God sent Assyria to punish Israel for her sins. The Assyrians did not know that they were being used for this purpose, and had a different wicked purpose in mind all along. Even though God used Assyria as his minister to execute vengeance, the Assyrian nation was proud, arrogant, and continued in their rebellion to God and their service to Satan. Yet God’s control of Assyria was so complete that He compared them to an instrument in His own hand, like an axe or a saw in the hand of a woodworker. God can and does use governments, of which he does not approve, which continually blaspheme His name, to ultimately do good for His righteous people.
So who ruled Assyria? God or Satan? The answer is both. Satan ruled Assyria in that they rebelled against God. But God overruled Assyria’s rebellion to accomplish good.
“But doesn’t Romans 13 teach that God created government for good, and therefore approves of government?”
Romans 13 teaches that God ordained government. The definition of the word “ordain” means to “establish as a law; order; fix; decide”. The word does not imply approval, neither by its definition, nor by the context of Romans 13. Throughout Scripture, God ordains many things of which He does not approve. He ordained that Israel should have a king, yet he did so in anger (Hos. 13.11). He ordained the wicked nation of Assyria as a minister to punish the wickedness of Israel, yet He did not approve of their actions (Isa. 10.5-15). God “foreordained” that Jesus would be crucified, yet He did not approve of the actions of those murders (Acts 2.22-23; 1 Cor. 2.7).
Romans 13 never teaches that earthly governments are good. But it does teach “it is a minister of God to you for good” (v. 4). There is a difference between calling something good, and saying that something is “for good.” Assyria was created “for good”; the Babylonians were created “for good”; the Romans were created “for good,” but God never calls them good. Consider how Paul used the phrase “for good” just a few verses earlier:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. – Rom. 8:28
Does Romans 8:28 teach that all things are good? Is tribulation good? Is distress good? Is persecution good? No. But through God’s providence, they all work together for good.
Romans 13 means exactly what it says, and it can’t be twisted to mean things that it doesn’t say. Romans 13 does not teach that God approves of government, or that he calls them good.
“If government functions under the rule of Satan, how could God command us to obey Satan in anything?”
Submitting to Satan? That certainly has a weird ring to it doesn’t it? The good news is that is not what Christians are commanded to do.
1 Peter 2:13 commands us to “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king or as to one in authority.” Why are we commanded to obey? Not for the government’s sake; not for Satan’s sake; but for the Lord’s sake. When laws conflict with the rule of God, of course we must break them (Acts 5.39). But otherwise, we are to submit to them, for not doing so would unnecessarily get in the way of our mission to build up God’s kingdom.
Neither does Paul in Romans command us to obey Satan. He does, however, command us not to be “overcome by evil, but to overcome evil by good.” How do we do that, Paul? “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.” Paul describes our subjection to government as an application of overcoming evil by good.
“I concede that governments are very often corrupt, reflecting the values of Satan rather than the values of God, but aren’t there exceptions to this generality? For example, when governments help the poor, limit alcohol consumption, or improve workplace safety, how can it be said that this is Satan’s work?”
Firstly, let us remember that Satan has always been more than willing to compromise with those with those who will serve him if by so doing he is able to extend his dominion. Is this not precisely the offer Satan made to Jesus in the wilderness? Satan was willing to allow Jesus to rule over all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would simply concede to bow down to him as the ultimate authority. Have you ever considered how many “good laws” Jesus could have passed if he held political office? He could have ruled with great love and compassion, yet by so doing, Satan would have been the victor.
As Christians we proclaim that Jesus is our King. If we act as if the kingdom of God is insufficient to accomplish God’s work without the assistance of kingdoms of men, we are proclaiming an insufficient Christ. Should it surprise us that Satan would offer beautiful compromises accomplish this end?
Secondly, we should remember Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. – 1 Cor. 10.3-4
Christians are not to use fleshly weapons to accomplish our goals. Fleshly weapons are the only power earthly governments possess. How do they improve healthcare? How do they limit alcohol consumption? How do they end poverty? By passing laws.
What gives these laws any force? Government officials with fleshly weapons. Fleshly weapons are the only strength governments have to enforce any of their authority. To use political means to accomplish good is to use weapons Christians are not to use.
“Can a Christian ever serve in political office? Should they even vote? Should they serve in the military or even in the police force?”
These are great questions. We are not of this world, but we are in the world. This tension creates some difficulties that are not always easily resolved. I am content with putting forth what Scripture teaches, and leaving it at that. In Scripture, human governments are introduced to us in rebellion to God, they always continued as enemies of God’s people, their very character is contrary to service to God and they are (at least in a sense) ruled by Satan. To answer questions such as these, which are not plainly taught in Scripture, we must honestly reflect on what we can understand from Scripture and apply those teachings the very best we can. We are never to judge fellow Christians for the decisions they make in service to God (Rom. 14), but we also must be careful not to twist the Scripture’s teachings to fit our preconceived conclusions.
As Christians, we serve only one master. In light of this, we should recognize that “All the nations are as nothing before Him, They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless” (Isa. 40:17). Our job is to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. Nothing must distract us from this task.
I leave it each individual to apply this in their lives as they conclude it best in their service to God.