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Prince of the Power of the Air

“And you, having been dead in your the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the fashion of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience.”

(Ephesians 2:1-2)

“The prince of the power of the air,” this is the term that Paul uses to refer to Satan in this context. When combined with Paul’s reference to him as “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and Jesus’ reference to Satan as the “ruler of this world” (John 14:30), some have developed a theology that suggests that Satan is some sort of legitimate force that reigns in sections of this earth or peoples of this earth where the Gospel has not yet gone.

First of all, we should make clear that even in light of these references, Satan is at best a usurper, seeking for himself that which is not his just as Cain sought the blessings of his brother’s sacrifice. Satan also has no power apart from that which God permits him and thus God sets the boundaries and the length of the leash upon which the roaring lion is tethered. The Christian must be prepared for battle against him but should never fear him.

With that in mind, there is a theology that seems to rise to the surface periodically that is unhelpful at best and superstitious at worst. It suggests that until an evangelist takes the Gospel to a given location, Satan has dominion there. Upon what can that be based? God is omnipresent, is he not? While the Gospel has not been taken or received in a given location as of yet, that does not mean that such a locale is under the dominion of the devil. It simply means that Christians yet have work to do. 

So, why then do Paul and Jesus use language such as this? Certainly this is giving the devil more than his due. To begin with, the language of satan being the god of or the ruler of this world is meant to set up a contrast. Christians become citizens of heaven whereas the wicked are only ever seen as those who dwell in the earth (you see this contrast play out prominently in the book of Revelation). Thus, those of earth worship the things of wickedness and the fall, hence they turn to their god and ruler, who is none other than the devil himself. It is not a popular thing to say, but it can still be fairly said that unless you worship the God of heaven, you are worshiping the devil.

As to the language that we find here, we should see Paul as making a distinction between the air — ἀήρ (aer) in the Greek — and the wind — πνεῦμα (pneuma) in the Greek. Much could be said here about the uses of each word, but let it suffice to say that the Bible presents the former as being more or less inert and not affecting anything whereas the latter is seen as life-giving. Never once do we see air performing this function, it is just there. If the devil has any power, it is over nothing of eternal consequence and it will fade like the grass in the summer heat. The Spirit, in contrast, is not like air, but like the wind, and goes where he chooses.

Priorities and Life

“And you, having been dead in your the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the fashion of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience.”

(Ephesians 2:1-2)

As we have noted several times already, this letter is not written to people in general, but to believers in the church. Paul’s words once again reinforce that notion when he speaks of the sins “in which you once walked.” One of the most telling marks of a Christian is that the way they conduct their life is different than the way the world functions. This includes, but extends beyond just “good morals” and reflects a change in purpose. Those who live according to the world will live to serve themselves; those who are Christians will live to serve Christ first and foremost. 

There is a principle about which I have spoken for years, and that has to do with the way priorities are spoken of in western culture. For example, people most commonly say things like: “this is my first priority, this is my second…” It is my belief that we are not designed to compartmentalize our lives in that fashion. In fact, I would submit that we are only ever able to have one priority in life and that everything we do flows out of that priority. Further, I think that there are ultimately but two options: God or self. 

If God is your priority in life, you will still be a good employee, a good parent, a good neighbor, and a good citizen, but you will be all of these things because you recognize them to be aspects of the way you serve and honor God. If self is your priority, then you still may be a good employee, a good parent, a good neighbor, and a good citizen, but only insofar as those things serve your needs. The world says, “be true to yourself.” The Bible says, “be true to God.” which will it be?

Paul is writing of the change that takes place in the life of the believer. “Once we served self, now we serve God,” is the heart of his message here. Once we pursued the fashion of this world; now we pursue righteousness, holiness, and Truth. Once we served the devil, either explicitly or implicitly; now we serve Christ. Once we were numbered amongst the “sons of disobedience;” now we are called “Children of God.”