On February 12 of this year about 30 prayer leaders met in Pasadena at the invitation of Peter Wagner for a Post-Lausanne II Consultation on Cosmic-Level Spiritual Warfare. At least five workshops at Lausanne II in Manila last year had dealt with “territorial spirits” and their relationship to world evangelization. The Pasadena meeting was strictly ad-hoc and aimed simply to pray and brainstorm about wrestling with principalities and powers in world evangelization.
What shall we make of this new warfare strategy in evangelism? Is it the sort of thing you only read about in Frank Peretti’s novels? Or is it terribly real and strategic for finishing the great commission among “hard” and “closed” peoples of the world?
First of all, what are we talking about? Increasingly, missionaries and evangelists are asking whether the “principalities, powers, world rulers of this present darkness and spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places” may refer to a hierarchy of demonic beings, some of whom are charged with darkening and oppressing a specific territory or people. If so, it may be that some kind of concerted prayer of resistance focused on these territorial spirits might “open” a territory to the gospel in unprecedented ways.
For example, one report from Lausanne II said that in the fall of 1984 a group of pastors and leaders from the San Nicolas/Rosario area of Argentina gathered to discuss and pray about spiritual warfare. The gathering was prompted by the realization that 109 towns within 100 miles of their training center had no Christian witness. They did some preliminary studies and discovered that the town of Arroyo Seco appeared to be the seat of satanic activity in the region.
Years before, a well-known warlock (sorcerer) by the name of Mr. Meregildo operated out of that town. He was so famous and his cures so dramatic that people would trek to Arroyo Seco from overseas for his services. Before he died, he evidently passed his powers on to 12 disciples. Three times a church was established in Arroyo Seco and three times it closed down in the face of severe spiritual opposition.
After several days of Bible study and prayer, the pastors and leaders came together in one accord and placed the entire area under spiritual authority. A few of them traveled to Arroyo Seco. Positioning themselves across the street from the headquarters of Mr. Meregildo’s followers, they served an eviction notice on the forces of evil. They announced to them that they were defeated and that Jesus Christ would attract many to himself now that the church was united and had pledged to proclaim him. Less than three years later, 82 of those towns had evangelical churches in them. An unverified report indicates that as of today, all of them have a church or a Christian witness.1
What does the Scripture say about this sort of thing? There is some relevant biblical truth to consider. First, we need to recognize the teaching that obstacles to effective evangelism are not only human pride (John 5:44) and hardness of heart (Acts 28:25-28), but also satanic opposition. This opposition comes in various forms.
This raises the question whether a kind of focused warfare-praying should be a component of our evangelism and mission strategy alongside the preaching of the gospel. Should satanic opposition be explicitly resisted in prayer (James 4:7), along with petitions for boldness of the preacher (Ephesians 6:19) and the opening of the sinner’s heart (Acts 16:14)?
More specifically, are there territorial spirits that darken whole regions or people? Should there be a concerted prayer effort to “bind” or disarm these powers for the sake of more fruitful evangelism?
The passage of Scripture that points most clearly to the possibility that some demonic powers oversee territories is Daniel 10. Daniel set himself to pray and fast for three weeks. At the end of the time an angel appeared to him and said that God had heard his prayer from the first day he began to humble himself and pray (v. 12). The reason he had taken three weeks to come, said the angel, was this: “The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, so I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia and came to make you understand what is to befall your people” (vv. 13-14).
Evidently the evil angelic power that fought the angel who was sent to Daniel had some special relation to the territory or nation of Persia. In verse 21 the angel says to Daniel, “But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I am through with him, lo, the prince of Greece will come.” Again, the demonic power seems to have a special connection with a territory or nation of Greece.
Evidently one reason this angel came to Daniel was to encourage him in his praying. Ronald Wallace, the Scottish pastor and teacher, comments on this passage,
Daniel’s most intense agony, when he fasted and prayed with great conflict of soul, took place during the period of a great struggle in heaven between Michael and the prince of Persia (verses 3, 12). The conflict ended in victory for Michael, but the implication is that Daniel himself, in his sensitivity to what was going on in the other realm, was caught up into this conflict, was able to participate in it through his prayers, and thus to help to bring about sooner the successful outcome.2
Is there any missions and evangelical significance to the apparent fact that Brazilian voodoo witches were offering sacrifices for the protection of Panama’s chief of state, Manuel Noriega? Is there a “prince of Panama” to which these sacrifices were being made? Could he be discerned and opposed in concerted warfare prayer?
Was there a “prince” – a “principality or power” – behind the Nazi regime? Tom White of Mantle of Praise Ministries tells a story of someone involved.
In 1983 we worked with a new convert, a middle-aged German man who had grown up in West Berlin in the late 1930’s. His grandfather and uncle had both been involved in the Nazi movement. He recalled secret meetings of German government officials in his home. With discernment and prayer, a stronghold of darkness was exposed, with an ugliness and intensity bound up with the very forces of anti-Christ that fed the diabolical schemes of Hitler. Though the earthly movement finally failed, the spiritual principalities of German witchcraft and hatred of the Jew are still present. Because of the strategic influence of this one life, we battled for our brother’s freedom over the course of a year. In the final session, a strong, dark spirit manifested [itself], directly threatening my life. Holding firm in faith, with the sword of the Spirit, four other pastors and myself prevailed to break Satan’s claim on this man. Today, he and his wife serve the Lord in Reno, Nevada, witnessing to the grace of God and setting other captives free.3
I consider myself a beginner in this matter of “cosmic-level spiritual warfare.” I have no program to put forward. I find myself being drawn from many sides into realities and struggles that I never even thought about five years ago. My aim in writing this article is to lay the matter before you for your consideration and prayer.
Who knows whether the intensification of spiritual conflict in the last decade of the second millennium will not take on dimensions foreign to our somewhat domesticated spirituality? Be on the alert! Let us not be ignorant of any of Satan’s devices (neither personal nor cosmic). Let us learn how to “resist him, firm in our faith.” And let us never forget the word of Revelation 12:11, “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”
1 This account was taken from a presentation to the Spiritual Warfare Track Workshop at Lausanne II, by Edgardo Silvoso. The paper is entitled “Spiritual Warfare in Argentina and the ‘Plan Resistencia’.” For information, write Harvest Evangelism, Inc., P.O. Box 9039, San José, CA 95157.
2 Wallace, Ronald, The Lord is King: The Message of Daniel (InterVarsity Press, 1979, p. 179).
3 This account is taken from a paper presented by Tom White at Lausanne II entitled “A Model for Discerning, Penetrating and Overcoming Ruling Principalities and Powers” p. 6.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
My understanding is that the apostle Paul is referring to Satan by “prince of the power of the air”. Why would he be called that?
Satan was a mighty angel (Ezekiel 28:12-14), who was cast out from Heaven because of his pride and rebellion (Isaiah 14:12-15). Latter, Satan deceived Adam and Eve and became the father of sinners.
John 8:44 (NIV)You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Now that Satan had infected the whole world with his sins, he is now the ruler of this world.
John 14:30-31 (NIV) I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me
After we believe in Christ, we became new creation.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Though we are save by the blood of Christ and are born again in Christ, we are still living in the world where Satan rules.
1 John 5:19 (NIV) We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
Therefore, Satan is called the Ruler of the air.
Ephesians 2:1-2 (NIV) As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
Satan is always moving about the air and working in the hearts of men to commit sinful things. The majority of this world population is following Satan or Satan is at work in their life. The air itself is polluted with sins created by the works of Satan. Satan will continue to work until Jesus Christ comes back again to defeat him (Revelation 19:11-21).
I would simply add to Mawia’s anwer that the expression “the air” is a way of identifying the evil, sentient beings in the spiritual realm; namely, Satan and his minions, or demons.
The Hebrews believed in, and wrote about, three heavens, and in English we would call them “the firmament,” “space,” and “the home of God” (or “the highest heaven,” as in “God resides in heaven,” or “God is enthroned in heaven”; see Isaiah 6:1-7).
Interestingly, the New Testament phrase “in the heavenlies” (or “in the heavenly realms”) describes the believers’ position or standing IN Christ. We are seated in the heavenlies with Him by faith at the right hand of God (see Hebrews 8:1; 12:2). Positionally–that is, in a judicial sense–believers in the eyes of God are IN Christ (see Ephesians 1:3,20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12; and 2 Corinthians 5:17).
By contrast, Satan and his demonic forces, referred to variously in the New Testament as principalities, powers, rulers, authorities, world forces of darkness, and spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places (see Ro 8:38; Eph 6:12; Col 1:16; 2:15; 1 Pet 3:22) occupy, in a sense, the first heaven, although we see the evidence of their work vey clearly on earth, in and through people and perhaps even through some acts of nature (which we sometimes, perhaps mistakenly, call “acts of God”!).
This evidence takes many forms, and not just in obvious ways such as violence, wars, genocide, widespread injustice, and sexual immorality, but also in not-so-obvious ways, as in godless ideologies and worldviews, corrupt and repressive governments, and much more.
Fallen humankind has its own role in the creation and maintenance of wickedness, too. We cannot claim as comedian Flip Wilson did years ago, “The devil made [us] do it”! There is an expression “to be in league with the devil,” which encapsulates quite well how both Satan (or the devil) andhumankind each assumes a degree of culpability, though Satan assumes more, since he instigated the rebellion against God and exerts more influence than we do within the spiritual realm (see Matthew 18:7). Satan is our enemy and we are to fear him, but we are also to resist him and even on occasions rebuke him in the name of Jesus (see 1 Pe 5:8,9; Jas 4:7; Jude 9).
Moreover, Satan is well organized and systematic in his assault on anything and everything God calls good. Aided by a hierarchy of demons under his control, the hallmarks of his cosmos–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16)–are evident in every society and culture in the world: from the blatant consumerism and materialism of the minority world, to the oppressive political and religious regimes in the majority world, the latter of which are manifested in atheistic communism and radical Islam, for example.
Satan is alive and well on planet Earth. He is organized; his army of demons and unclean spirits is well staffed and well trained, with unwavering loyalty to their “prince; and his mission is clear: to kill, to steal, and to destroy anything and everything that God has made or is in the process of building, including the universal church of His Son and of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (John 10:10).
Empowered both by Jesus’ victory on the cross and by the Holy Spirit’s empowering and channeling of the unwavering loyalty of God’s ever-expanding family on earth, Satan is a defeated foe (see John 10:10; 1 John 3:8; and Revelation 13:10-12).
In conclusion, we thank God that Satan was dealt a death blow at the cross of Christ, which freed God to “wrap things up” by bringing history as we know it to a close in a way that is consistent with His eternal plan, the counsel of His will, and His holy, righteous, and just character. In so doing, God will eradicate completely Satan’s strongholds in the world and then usher in a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness will reign supreme, where sin will never again intrude, and where Satan will never again spoil what God has called good (see Revelation 20:10 and 21:1).
There are two words in Greek that could describe “air”: οὐρανός (ouranos) and ἀήρ (aēr; obviously the origin of the English word). The latter word is what appears in Ephesians.
Whereas οὐρανός usually means “heaven” or “the heavens”, ἀήρ refers to the space just above the surface of the earth (“sky”). Sometimes οὐρανός is used to mean “sky” (e.g. Matthew 13:32), but ἀήρ is never used to mean “heaven”. It is a rare word and appears only 7 times in the New Testament, and 10 in the Septuagint.
In the Septuagint version of Genesis, οὐρανός is what appears in 1:1 (In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth). ἀήρ, however, is what is hovers over the earth. For example:
Psalm 17:11 LXX
And he made darkness his secret place: round about him was his tabernacle, even dark water in the clouds of the air [νεφέλαις ἀέρων].
The space between heaven and earth – the “sky” – is inhabited by principalities, powers, world rulers of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). John Chrysostom’s explanation (4th c. Greek) for the wording here is:
Here again he means, that Satan occupies the space under Heaven, and that the incorporeal powers are spirits of the air, under his operation. For that his kingdom is of this age, i.e., will cease with the present age, hear what he says at the end of the Epistle; “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers, against the world rulers of this darkness;” (Eph. vi. 12.) where, lest when you hear of world-rulers you should therefore say that the Devil is uncreated, he elsewhere (Gal. i. 4.) calls a perverse time, “an evil world,” not of the creatures. For he seems to me, having had dominion beneath the sky, not to have fallen from his dominion, even after his transgression.1
This “kingdom of the air” is a literal, not a figurative kingdom. When Christ is tempted by the devil in the wilderness, the devil offers him all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8; Luke 4:5). There is nothing in Scripture that insinuates that all this is not, in fact, Satan’s to give. On the contrary: we have the testimony of John that all the world is under the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19)