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Jesus spoke of Satan’s kingdom (Matt. 12:26) and referred to him as the “ruler of this world (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). John the apostle says that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). And the apostle Paul refers to him as “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). Although the devil does not have absolute control over the world, he and his angels do have considerable power to create harm in pursuit of their evil goals. He can cause a range of catastrophic events, including physical afflictions and even death (Job 1–2; Luke 13:16; Heb. 2:14). His demons are able to afflict and torment people in a variety of ways, many instances of which are recounted in the Gospels. (Of course, not all physical and mental afflictions come from the devil.)
From this and from what Scripture shows elsewhere, we can safely say that his goals are to reclaim or at least neutralize God’s people, to destroy the church, to overthrow the kingdom of God, to displace God as King of creation and to become the object of all worship. This helps explain much of the evil and suffering that rages on earth.
Lovelace explains that normally
The destructive malice of satan against all humanity, and particularly against the church, is channeled through human agents and the systems and institutions they have built. Humanity in general is afflicted by the destroyer through the structures of injustice and oppression of which the flesh and the devil are joint architects, and Christians are murderously attacked by individuals and governments ultimately directed by Satan.11
We see evidence of this in the political realm from nearly the beginning of time. Evil spirits seek to influence governments, their leaders and world affairs to advance Satan’s purposes. A brief glimpse of this is found in Daniel 10:13–14, where the “prince of the kingdom of Persia,” an evil spirit of high rank and power, resisted one of God’s angels who was sent to Persia to answer Daniel’s prayer. He held the angel at bay for twenty-one days, until the archangel Michael arrived to assist him. After delivering his message to Daniel, the good angel took leave to “return to fight against the prince of Persia; and behold, when I go out, the prince of Greece will come” (Dan. 10:20).
Another example, this one in the New Testament, is Nero’s persecution of the church in AD 64–65. Peter, Paul, and many other believers in Rome were put to death, often in unimaginably cruel ways by this madman. Writing on the eve of that persecution, Peter seems to suggest that the devil was behind the gathering storm (1 Pet. 5:8–9). And in view of Nero’s character and behavior, that seems very likely. In Smyrna a couple of decades later, we are told that the devil worked through the machinery of government to bring about the arrest and execution of God’s people in that city (Rev. 2:10). In recent times, examples abound of widespread demonic evil perpetrated through governments influenced by atheistic ideologies such as Marxism and Nazism, and through radical Islam.
Religion and its institutions are another of the devil’s prime targets for influence and control. By inspiring and energizing false religions, the devil can deceive people and keep them away from the true God. The pagan religions of Canaan, for example, were demonically controlled (Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:37) and were a great snare to Israel for centuries. And in New Testament times, Paul says Greco-Roman pagan idolatry was also energized by demons (1 Cor. 10:18–22). But it is in the church itself that the devil seeks to make his greatest impact. Paul warns believers in Corinth about false apostles and workers, saying that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light . . . his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14–15).
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