Satan’s Kingdom at War
(Reading Time: 8 minutes) As we saw in a previous article, Satan originally was a guardian cherub, who tried to overthrow God’s kingdom and take his place. He enticed Adam and Eve to disobey what God told them. As a result, God expelled them from the Garden of Eden and his presence, all of creation became dominated by decay, Satan became the ruler of the world, and all of humanity became slaves to sin. Satan’s kingdom has been at war with God’s from its beginning.
Who is the spiritual being we know as “Satan”? Originally, God anointed and ordained him as a guardian cherub, which means he dedicated him for a position with a specific function (Ezek. 28:14). Cherubim seem to be an “inner circle” of angels with the closest access to God; however, the only ones other than Satan said to be guarding anything are stationed at the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24). Therefore, the significance of the term, “guardian cherub,” isn’t clear, though there’s much speculation.
Ezekiel provides two detailed descriptions of the beings he eventually realized were cherubim (Ezek. 1:5-24; 10:1-22). We can assume all cherubim have similar appearances, including the one who became Satan. They have a general human form, but with four faces, one on each of their four sides: that of a human, a lion, an ox and an eagle. They have four wings on their four sides that make a sound like roaring water, the voice of God, or the tumult of an army. They have hands under their wings. Their legs are straight and their feet are like those of a calf. Their entire bodies are completely full of eyes. Their appearances are like torches or burning coals of fire, bright fire moves among them and lightning flashes out of the fire. No other created spiritual beings have such an astounding appearance, and Satan originally was one of them, though it’s unlikely he still looks like that.
After God expelled him from heaven for sinning, the Bible refers to him as a dragon, an ancient serpent, the devil or Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). The term “dragon” refers to a hideous, serpent-like monster, and he’s also called an enormous red dragon (Rev. 12:3). “Serpent” obviously refers to a snake. The word translated “devil” refers to a slanderer, as one who separates or sets others in opposition to each other. “Satan” is from a general Hebrew word for an adversary, and capitalizing the word as his name identifies him as our primary adversary.
Before his crucifixion, Jesus called Satan the “prince of this world” (John 12:31, NIV; 14:30; 16:11), which means the physical world and the world system were his kingdom. Recall that Satan offered all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus because they were his, and Jesus didn’t dispute his claim (Luke 4:5-7). After his resurrection, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18), which means Satan no longer is the absolute ruler of the world, though the world system is still under his control (1 John 5:19). Satan was demoted to “ruler of the kingdom of the air” and “god of this age” (Eph. 2:2; 2 Cor. 4:4), which means his authority is now reduced and limited in time.
God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” which is the kingdom of light (Col. 1:12-13). Notice the contrast: “dominion of darkness” versus “kingdom of light.” The Bible uses “darkness” as a figurative reference to the realm dominated by evil, sinfulness and ignorance of God and his ways; “light” clearly refers to the opposite. The word in this passage translated “dominion” refers to control, jurisdiction, domain, or authority to rule, although it doesn’t specifically mean “kingdom.” Does Satan still have a kingdom? Yes, in the sense that he exercises control or authority over a domain including a specific group of people and other beings. Is his “kingdom” comparable to God’s? Not in the least. For convenience, however, we’ll continue to describe Satan’s domain as his kingdom and the beings in his kingdom as “citizens,” though “subjects” or “slaves” would be more accurate.
Citizens of the Kingdom
Revelation Chapter 12 shows God expelled the rebellious cherub from his presence, along with the angels aligned with him. It describes an enormous red dragon, “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan” (Rev. 12:3, 9). “Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth” (12:4), where “stars” refers to angels (see Rev. 1:20). Jesus spoke about “the devil and his angels” and Revelation refers to “the dragon and his angels,” referring to the same beings (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 12:7). Because Satan is finite and cannot be in more than one place at a time, he relies on the angels in his kingdom, whom we typically call “fallen angels,” to help with his work. His angels fully support him in his war because they share his hatred of God and everyone associated with him.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day accused him of driving out a demon by “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Matt. 12:24; Luke 11:15). Beelzebul is the Greek version of the Hebrew name for Satan. In response to their accusation, Jesus confirmed Satan is the “prince of demons,” which means demons also are members of Satan’s kingdom. The Bible refers to them as impure spirits (Luke 4:33) and associates them with Satan (Luke 11:18; Rev. 16:13-14). The Bible doesn’t describe their origin, so we don’t need to know where they came from. Demons exist and are evil spiritual beings; that’s what matters. Clearly they can possess people (Matt. 4:24) and they want to inhabit people or animals (Matt. 17:18; Luke 4:35, 41; Matt. 8:31). Demons are members of Satan’s kingdom and clearly support his spiritual war by doing his work, tormenting people with a variety of afflictions (Matt. 9:33; 15:22; Acts 5:16).
“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). The word translated “ruler” applies to any being who holds the highest and loftiest position of rank and authority. “Authorities” are those who exercise administrative control over others. The “powers of this dark world” could be spiritual forces, the human world rulers under the control of the dark kingdom, or the raw evil power released in response to their orders. Then there are the spiritual forces of evil – wickedness, depravity, viciousness – that operate in the heavenly realms. This passage describes either a hierarchy or groups of beings in the dark kingdom involved in its war against God’s people.
There’s another group of beings in Satan’s kingdom: unredeemed humans, or sinners. The Bible calls them “people of the evil one” (Matt. 13:38), where the “evil one” is Satan himself. These are the non-Christians who interact with or affect us every day. They’re citizens of Satan’s kingdom and are engaged in his spiritual war, but most of them don’t realize it and probably would reject the idea because he deceives them. Though they can be nice and even helpful at times, they exhibit Satan’s nature and do his work, as we’ll see in another article.
By human standards, Satan is a terrifying opponent, but we don’t have to defeat him because Jesus already did that. We need to be aware of the devil’s limitations and our own, and learn to trust God, who has none. In contrast, Satan has definite, major limitations.
Ruler, Not Sovereign. Yes, he’s a ruler and the whole world is under his control (1 John 5:19), but he’s not sovereign because God limits him. Even before Jesus defeated him on the cross, Satan needed God’s permission to afflict Job. God allowed him to do so, but limited what he could do (Job 1:12; 2:5). Satan asked Jesus to allow him to sift the disciples like wheat (Luke 22:31). After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Satan’s kingdom authority was reduced and his time was limited to this age (2 Cor. 4:4). Eventually, his kingdom will become Jesus’ domain (Rev. 11:15). He’s subordinate to God, not sovereign, and his kingdom will come to an end.
Powerful, Not Omnipotent. Jesus broke Satan’s power (Heb. 2:14) and disarmed his powers and authorities (Col. 2:15). Satan can’t snatch us from God’s hand (John 10:28). He can’t separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38-39). God will crush him under our feet (Rom. 16:20). He’s prevented from tempting us beyond what we can bear (1 Cor. 10:13). If we submit to God, then resist the devil, he’ll flee from us (James 4:7). We can overcome him because the Spirit of God in us is greater than he is (1 John 2:13-14; 4:4). He can’t harm us (1 John 5:18). God will confine him to the Abyss for 1000 years, then throw him into the lake of burning sulfur where he will stay forever (Rev. 20:2, 10). He’s powerful, but definitely limited.
Knowledgeable, Not Omniscient. Satan has been around since the beginning of our time and has observed what people do, so he’s familiar with our nature, motivations and typical behavior. But he doesn’t know exactly what we’ll do. He claimed Job would curse God if he lost all his possessions, but he didn’t (Job 1:9-11). He claimed Job would curse God if he afflicted him physically, but he didn’t (Job 2:5). He tempted Jesus in the wilderness, expecting to overcome him, but he couldn’t (Matt. 4:1-11). If Satan had known what the results of crucifying Jesus would be, he would have prevented it (1 Cor. 2:7-8). Satan doesn’t know when Jesus will return to set up his kingdom (Matt. 24:36; Mark 13:32). Satan doesn’t know what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9). God kept his plan – to unite the Gentiles and Israel as members of one body – a mystery until he revealed it through the church (Eph. 3:6, 9-10). As knowledgeable as he is, Satan doesn’t know everything, but God does.
Finite, Not Omnipresent. Satan is finite like all other spiritual beings and cannot be in multiple places at the same time, as God can. “One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them,” so Satan hadn’t been in God’s presence (Job 1:6). God expelled him from his presence in heaven (Isa. 14:12; Ezek. 28:16-17; Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:8-9). After tempting Jesus, Satan left him (Matt. 4:11; Luke 4:13). If we submit to God and resist the devil, he’ll flee from us (James 4:7). Though he has a multitude of spiritual beings doing his work, neither he nor any of them can be in more than one place at a time.
Because he persuaded Adam and Eve to disobey God, Satan became the prince or ruler of what had been their domain. The citizens or subjects of his kingdom include the angels who were expelled with him from heaven, in addition to demons and unredeemed humans or sinners. All of them are actively engaged in the spiritual war against God and his people. Satan has definite limitations, but he remains in charge of his kingdom, which is now limited in its scope and duration.