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Question #222

Who are the spiritual host of wickedness in heavenly places?

Please explain the meaning of against principalities, against powers against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness, in heavenly places, especially "heavenly places" another translation states "high places." Who are the spiritual host of wickedness, in heavenly places, or high places?

The Answer:

The passage about which inquiry is made is Ephesians 6:12 – “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (KJV).

In this context Paul begins his discussion of the armor of God by encouraging the saints to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might (v. 10). In that strength and power, Paul admonishes the brethren to put on the whole armor of God that they may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil (v. 11). In verse 12, Paul discusses the nature of the enemy against whom Christians struggle and why they need the whole armor of God to be successful.

This is the only passage in Paul’s writings in which he explicitly speaks of Christians’ struggling against evil spirit powers. Its uniqueness has led some to say that the passage is an interpolation; however, there is no manuscript evidence for its omission. In fact, while not as explicit Paul lays the groundwork for this explicit statement in Eph. 1:20-23 where he tell us that Christ, at the right hand of God, is “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” The scope of the victory wrought in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ is made clear in the listing of these defeated cosmic powers. Colossians 1:16 and 2:10, 15 are related passages. Certainly, there has been much discussion over whether these powers are good, benign, or hostile. While it may be that an absolute answer is difficult, beyond doubt these powers (“all rule and all authority and power”) are among the enemies that Christ shall have put down at his coming. Eph. 6:12 makes certain that the powers mentioned there are evil. Eph. 2:2 does the same.

What then are these powers? In verse 11 Paul identifies the primary enemy as the Devil. Whatever the powers are they are of the Devil and thus have a personal center and commander-in-chief. Eph. 2:2 tells us that they have human beings through whom they are operative (“the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience”). Eph. 4:14 lists some of their activities directed at the church of the Lord. It is truly a battle or a “wrestling” match, but unlike the usual wrestling match where one can “lay hold” on the opponent, our opponent is spiritual in nature.

Thus, the evil powers here listed as opposing believers are subject to the devil, the prince of the power of the air. They include the principalities and authorities mentioned in 1:21 was those over whom Christ rules both in this age and in the age to come. Because this age continues and Christians must live in it (John 17:15), these powers are still a threat. Among these powers are “the rulers of the darkness of this world,” a description that signifies the power and authority that they exercise over the world. In Matt. 4:8-9 the Devil took Jesus to an exceeding high mountain, showed him the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and promised to give them to Christ if he would bow down and worship Satan. Certainly Satan claimed ownership of the kingdoms of the world. These beings are also called “spiritual wickedness in high places.” Some assert that this expression was used to emphasize that our battle is spiritual and not against men (“flesh and blood”). Others think that Paul is really speaking of “wicked spirits.” The ASV translates it “the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.” Both understandings are scripturally correct. “Heavenly places” is the same word used in Ephesians 1:3, 20; 2:6; and 3:10. Some suggest that Paul is using the “layered” understanding of Heaven (he was called to the “third Heaven,” 2 Cor. 12:2) with God occupying the highest heaven and Satan and his minions the lowest. Others think that the term does not always mean the same thing and that the meaning must be understood from the context, thus concluding that, since it is the dwelling place of Satan, it cannot refer to the same location where the word is used elsewhere. There are other understandings but they are not supported by good rationale or scripture. Charles Hodge, in his commentary on Ephesians, concludes:

"The whole context, however, shows that the design of the apostle is to present the formidable character of our adversaries in the most impressive point of view. Others suppose that Paul means to refer to the former, and not to the present residence of these exalted beings. They are fallen angels, who once dwelt in heave. But his is obviously inconsistent with the nature meaning of his words. He speaks of them as in heaven. It is better to take the word heaven in a wised sense. It is very often used antithetically to the word earth. “Heaven and earth,” include the whole universe. All intelligent beings are terrestrial or celestial. Of the latter class some are good and some are bad, as of the angels some are holy and some are unholy. These principalities and potentates, these rulers and spirits of wickedness, are no earthly magnates, they belong to the order of celestial intelligences, and therefore are the more to be dreaded, and something more than human strength and earthly armour is required for the conflict to which the apostle refers."

One thing is clear – the Christ is over all such powers of whatever nature. By his strength and power the victory can be ours as well. We ought not to become so involved in trying to figure out the minute details of who these beings are that we miss Paul’s real message – our opponents are such that the only way that we can hope for victory is by putting on the whole armor of God and taking advantage of the mighty power of God that he has put at our disposal.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)