Satan is the ruler of this world. He is an unlawful ruler, with limited and temporary power, yet his power is real. His influence over the nations of the world is evident both historically and Biblically speaking. He uses his power to turn people away from God’s rule as he tempts them to define right and wrong for themselves.
At the same time, the Bible teaches that God ordains the governing authorities of this world as His ministers. Yet due to misunderstandings of passages such as Romans 13, some have concluded that the governments of this world exist to serve God in a willful and submissive manner. As a result, many Christians remain ignorant of Satan’s rule and influence over these worldly governments. Those who are ignorant of his authority are the most susceptible to his influence. Therefore it is important to understand how Satan rules as the god of this world, recognize his purposes for the world and the limited and temporary nature of his rule. God does overrule the wickedness of the nations to accomplish His purposes, but this does not mean that God is pleased with their rebellious existence or their wickedness.
Satan’s Purposes for the World
God the Creator is the rightful and sovereign ruler of the world. Satan’s temptation of Eve in the garden strikes right at the heart of God’s sovereign authority, and in so doing demonstrates Satan’s purposes for the world.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’… For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3.1, 5
Satan suggested to Eve that she could be free from God’s dominion. He suggested to her that she was fully capable to decide right and wrong for herself, and therefore should reject God’s authority over her. He wanted her to believe that she would be better off exercising self-rule by disobeying her Creator. In essence, Satan wanted Eve to believe that she could be her own god, ruling her own life in her own way.
The first 11 chapters of Genesis show how this violent rejection of God’s rule continued to spread through the world. The climax of this rebellion is seen in the tower of Babel, through which all the gentile nations were spread across the earth. All the nations covering the globe, all dominated by governments made of men exercising their own authority have their origin in this initial rejection of God by Adam and Eve.
From that day until now, people continue to trust in their own authority. People continue to write their own religious creeds, and establish their own churches, founded upon their own authority. People continue to write their own laws, and establish their own moral standards. People continue to rebel against God and act as if they are their own authority. The world is dominated by people who think they have the right to act as the “god” over other people.
This shouldn’t surprise us in the unbelieving world, where people claim no intention to follow God. But among Christians, who claim citizenship in the kingdom of heaven and proclaim Jesus as their King, there ought never to be those who turn aside from the authority of Christ and turn to self-proclaimed authority.
Whenever people assert their own authority to enforce their own standards of right and wrong, this does not make them free. Regardless of whether or not people serve God, they still serve a master.
Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. – Romans 6.16-18
Whenever people change their loyalty away from the LORD, they are giving their loyalty to Satan. In so doing, they are establishing Satan as their god. This was Satan’s purpose from the beginning.
The “god” of this World
Biblically speaking, Satan is indeed the god of this world.
I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me. – John 14.40
But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. – John 16.7-11
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in draftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. – 2 Corinthians 4.1-4
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. – Ephesians 2.1-2
The nations, the rulers, and all those who claim the right to rule mankind for themselves serve Satan as their god. Yes, God has established His kingdom on earth, but those whose citizenship is in the world are under a different dominion.
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son. – Colossians 1.13
Jesus – Reclaiming Rightful Authority
Jesus came to proclaim that the kingdom (dominion or reign) of God was at hand.
From that time Jesus became to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” – Matthew 4.17
Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1.15
Through all of Jesus’s actions, preaching and parables, His characteristic message continued to be that of the establishment of the reign of God. Jesus came to establish the Kingdom – the rightful rule of God – by establishing mankind’s submission to Him, and in so doing, He came to rescue the world from the dominion of Satan. Jesus came to destroy human self-rule by calling man back from sin to submission to the rule of God. To say that “the kingdom of God is at hand” only makes sense when his hearers understood that the world was not currently in submission to God.
Shortly after God declared Jesus as His son in a very special and unique way, Satan attacked Jesus right at the heart of His mission (Mt. 4.1-11; Lk. 4.1-13). God wouldn’t want His Son to be famished with hunger would He? Wouldn’t it be more satisfying to do things Satan’s way? If Jesus is God’s son, why not show it in one dramatic show of power, by casting Himself off the temple? Wouldn’t it be quicker and more effective to do things Satan’s way?
Arguably the most tempting of all was the the one regarding the domain and glory of the kingdoms of the world.
And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “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. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” – Luke 4.5-7
Satan claimed that the governments of the world had been handed over to him. Clearly this is what occurred when mankind rejected God’s rule. Commentators sometimes debate whether or not Satan actually had the ability to deliver on his promise or not, but such a debate misses the point. The point is that Satan tempted Jesus by offering him political power and prestige as an alternative method to doing things God’s way. For this offer to have been a temptation, Jesus must have believed that the alternative offered by Satan was a very real and attractive looking option. If Jesus had given in and sought political power, Jesus would have failed in His mission, and Satan would have had unlimited dominion over the world. Can you imagine what such a world would look like?
Satan’s (Temporary) Success
Satan’s efforts to turn man away from the LORD have been partially successful. Our God created a beautiful garden for us to dwell in, but all the thorns and thistles, the wickedness and corruption, and the grief and sorrow in the world testify that Satan is indeed its ruler. Jesus recognized that the kingdoms of this world, and all their pomp and glory, as promising and rewarding as they may appear, belong to the devil.
It is important that we do not fail to recognize or ignore this fact. Satan continues to offer more satisfying, more promising, and more pragmatic alternatives to doing things God’s way. Satan wants us to believe that simply doing things God’s way “isn’t practical in the real world.” He wants us to think that it would be “naïve” to strive after God’s ideals for peace. He wants us to be so enamored by the power of their swords that we forget about sword of the Spirit. If we are to spread the kingdom of God, we must be ready to submit to His Kingship, rejecting all of Satan’s alternative solutions.
Yet as successful as Satan has been in this world, we know that his power is limited and temporary. God has spoken, and the kingdom of Heaven will ultimately be victorious.
For it is written,
“As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall give praise to God” – Romans 14.11
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 11.15