At the end of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes the nature of our spiritual battle.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the spiritual realms (Eph 6:12).

I dislike the common translation of this verse because the terms used do not mean much in the modern world.

It is common for people to talk of "principalities and powers", but it is not clear what that means. Some people use the term to describe worldly political systems, but that does not make sense, as Paul is referring to spiritual realities. Even for those who understand the spiritual side of life, these terms do not make sense, because we do not have principalities anymore. In medieval Europe, a principality was a small territory ruled by a prince. They have now all been absorbed into nation-states, so principality is not a helpful word.

Ruler is another anachronistic word that is not used much these days. Power is too vague to be useful. Greek has a different word "dunamis", which is used for raw power. This word is applied to the force used by the spiritual powers of evil in 1 Cor 15:24).

Cosmos Dominators

The third expression that Paul uses is "rulers of darkness". The Greek word is "kosmoskrator". To capture the sense of this word, I prefer the expression "Cosmos Dominators of this Darkness". These are the really big spirits that rebelled against God and rule over armies of follower spirits. These archangels want to control the entire cosmos.

Archangels (arche = ruling; angelos = messenger) are big ruling angels/spirits with the ability to instruct other angels. Michael is the name of one who serves God (Jude 1:9). I am not sure why God needed them, because the Holy Spirit can speak to any angel and tell it God's will. I presume that he needed archangels to control large groups of angels working together on tasks needing concentrated power.

A big spirit called Accuser (satan) tricked Adam and Eve into disobeying God. He is also called Slanderer (devil) because he slanders God's name. I do not like the names satan and devil, because it makes this spirit seem greater than he is. I prefer to name him according to his character. He gets no glory from these words.

Once Adam and Eve had sinned, Accuser and a few of his powerful mates could claim legitimate authority over the earth. The others took on new roles as Death, Wrath, Destruction, Beast, and False Prophet. These big spirits worked together, but they also struggled with each other for power.

Most of the other spirits that stopped serving God are listeners and followers, so they obey anyone with authority over the place where they are operating. They naturally obeyed the big spirits who had seized authority on earth.

About a third of the angels were operating on earth at the time of the rebellion. They were waiting for Adam and Eve to give them instructions to care for the earth. When the archangels who had rebelled began to give them instructions, they obeyed because that is what they were created to do. They recognise authority, but they cannot distinguish between good and evil. The big rebellious angels had gained legitimate authority on earth, so they naturally obeyed them.

Political-Spirit and Government-Spirit

The first two Greek words that Paul uses are "arche" and "exousia". These are words that are associated with politics and government. To make this clear, I translate them as political-spirits and government-spirits. These spirits are traditionally called "principalities and powers", but political-spirit and government-spirit are more informative names.

Although the Cosmos Dominators were defeated by the cross, they maintained their authority on earth by using political-spirits and government-spirits to control political systems, governments and empires on earth. A political-spirit or government-spirit in the spiritual realms controls every town, city, nation and region on earth. Their authority on earth is perpetuated by a hierarchy of power.

This hierarchy of power allows the big controlling spirits to exercise authority on earth, despite their defeat by Jesus.

Paul used the Greek words " arche" and "exousia" to describe spiritual powers (Eph 3:10; 6:12). The same words are used in the New Testament for government agencies on earth. Luke and Paul both referred to Roman governors and magistrates as " arche" and "exousia" (Luke 12:11; 20:20; Tit 3:1). This confirms the link between political-spirits and government-spirits and human government.

The Prince of Persia is a government-spirit that controlled the Persian empire during the time of Daniel (Dan 10:13). The Prince of Greece is another political-spirit operating at that time (Dan 10:21). The King of the South and the King of the North are government-spirits that will arise in the future (Dan 11).

Most modern nations and cities are controlled by a government-spirit or political-spirit. They gain control because people trust in political power for their salvation. The greater the faith in political power and government, the stronger the political-spirits and government-spirits will be.

The political-spirits and government-spirits controlling a city, region or nation rule over all the spirits living in the city, region or nation they control. They direct them where to go and what to do. The follower spirits listen and obey the commands of the political-spirit that controls the area that they are operating in.

According to the New Testament, Jesus has been raised up in the spiritual realms, far above all political-spirits and government-spirits (Eph 1:21; Col 2:10). He will use his church to demonstrate his wisdom to them (Eph 3:10). They will be fully defeated at the end of the age (1 Cor 15:24).

Spiritual Forces of Wickedness

The fourth term that Paul uses in Ephesians 6:12 is literally spirituals of wickedness ( pneumatikos pomeria). To makes sense, this expression needs a noun. Either "forces" or "powers" can be used. I mostly refer to the spiritual powers of evil, but spiritual forces of wickedness is also fine. These are all the bad spirits that attack humans in various ways. They are controlled by the Cosmos Dominators or the political-spirits and government-spirits that control their nation or city.

The spiritual forces of wickedness were created to listen and obey, so they just do what they are told by the closest legitimate authority. They do not have the capability to evaluate plans, or make moral assessments, so they just implement any suggestion that is given to them. Unlike humans, they do not know the difference between good and evil. All they know is the difference between legitimate authority and illegitimate authority. They do whatever a voice of authority tells them to do.

These follower spirits are not very innovative. They were created to be doers, so they often do the same thing over and over again, until an authority tells them to do something different. Unlike humans, who are made in the image of God, and have inherited his creativity, they just do what they have always done.

Bad spirits find it hard to come up with new ways to do things. They are not creative because they were created to follow instructions and obey authority. If they are told to harass a person, an impure spirit just keeps on doing it until someone with authority tells them to do something different. For example, a spirit of fear is not different from other spirits, it is just a spirit that has been told to do fear. If it gets cast out of one person, it just finds another and keeps on creating fear in them.

When Christians cast out impure spirits, they often do not know where to send them. Some command them to go to hell, but others are uneasy about this because Jesus did not tell us to do it.

Casting out Bad Spirits

Jesus never told impure spirits where to go. He simply commanded them to leave the person they were harassing.

When Jesus cast the evil spirits out of the Gadarene man, they begged him not to send them to another place.

He begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area (Mark 5:10).

They were desperate to stay in the place where they had operated for many years. If they had been sent somewhere else, they would lose control. Place is really important, as bad spirits tend to operate in one place. Jesus allowed a legion of spirits to go into a herd of pigs. The bible does not say where they went after the pigs drowned (Mark 5:11-13). I presume that they stayed in the same area and carried on attacking people without spiritual protection.

When impure spirits are cast out, they wander around looking for a voice of authority to tell them what to do. They are followers, so they become confused if no one tells them what to do.

When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it (Luke 11:24).

In most situations, the area will be controlled by a political-spirit or government-spirit. I presume this spirit tells the impure spirit what to do. It will usually send it to harass another person in a similar way.

Jesus could not do anything different, as the political-spirits and government-spirits working through the Roman and Jewish authorities still dominated the region. Once an impure spirit left his presence, it fell under their authority again.

The same is true now. If we cast out a spirit now, it comes under the authority of the political-spirit that controls the region where we live.

Angels and Spirits

When describing beings that exist in the spiritual world, the Bible uses words that we use to describe the physical world in which we live. It has to do this, because human language does not have words to describe the spiritual. The word most often translated as “spirit” means breathe or wind. (ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek). The wind is unseen, but has powerful effect. Breathe is associated with life. These words tell us that spirit being have powerful effects on life, but it does not tell us anything about the substance from which they are made.

The same applies to the word for angel (malak in Hebrew and angelos in Greek). These words are often translated as angel, but the basic meaning is “messenger”. Malak describes a representative or ambassador who carries a message or represents another person. Some malak are spirit and others are physical (human). Many of the malak in the Old Testament are human (See Jos 6:25, Jud 11:14, 1 Sam 11:3).

The word malak or angelos tells us what these being do: they carry messages and represent another person. The name does not tell us about the substance from which they are made. Spiritual messengers represent God, who is spirit, so they are spirit too.

Because we have seen movies and read illustrated Bible stories, we have a picture in our minds of what angels are like. We tend to think of an angel as a man (sometimes a woman) with wings and face that glows brightly. Those pictures go way beyond what the word malak and angelos mean.

The angels in the Old Testament could make themselves appear like humans when they came to talk to people. That explains how they appeared, but it does not tell us what they look like in the spiritual world where the live. It tells us that they can operate between heaven and earth.

The word angel tells us nothing about the moral character of a being. Paul was attacked by a messenger (angelos) of Satan (2 Cor 12:7). Angels/messengers can be good and evil.

The word “seraph” is interesting. It is a Hebrew word (saraph) with no English equivalent, so Bible translators transliterate it as seraph. In Hebrew, seraph means burning or bright. So, the word tells us that these beings are hugely different from physical beings on earth, because they appear to be brighter than any physical being.

"Cherub" is another transliteration of a Hebrew word – "kruwb". This Hebrew word is rare and no one really knows what it means. Artists and illustrators have tended to portray cherubim as childlike creatures with wings, so that is how we imagine them, but that goes way beyond the meaning of the word.

The Holy Spirit has allowed many people to see events in the spiritual realms, but he has to reveal them in a way that can be understood by people whose minds are locked in a three-dimensional world. Humans we live in a three-dimensional world, so that is the only way we can think. So, people who see into the spiritual world see it as if was three dimensional. They see it that way, because the Spirit has to reveal it to humans that way. If we saw it as it really is, we would just see it a blur, because our imaginations cannot see in multiple dimensions.

Risk

Creating the angels was a huge risk for God, given that the Holy Spirit is all-powerful and therefore able to do everything needing to be done. It was quite a risky move because humans were given full freedom and authority over the earth, so they had the potential to rebel and oppose him and seriously harm his world. That would be bad enough, but if some angels rebelled too, then they could do terrible evil if they could get control of rebellious humans.

Creating powerful angels with sufficient freedom to rebel was a hugely risky move because this would massively amplify the evil that would occur if humans rebelled too. That is what has happened, and the spiritual powers of evil have been able to do terrible evil on earth since humans gave them the authority to work on evil. God must have had sufficient good reasons for creating angels to justify taking these risks.

The angels worship God in his presence, but that does not seem sufficient justification for their creation because it leaves God looking a little egotistic, if it was the only reason.

Angels have the ability to move between earth and heaven (Gen 28:12: Job 1:6; Psalm 103:20). Although they are spiritual beings, they can appear in the physical world and change physical things (Acts 5:19; 12:23). The angels also seemed to have a role in the creation of the world (Job 38:7) God would only need the angels working on earth if there were some things that the Holy Spirit could not do, but which angels could do. Reading the scriptures, I note the following things that angels can do that the Holy Spirit is unable to do, because he is pure spirit.

  1. The Holy Spirit can speak to people, but he cannot appear to them because he is spirit. Human eyes can see the effects of his presence, such as people falling down, but we cannot see him directly. So, when God needs his messenger to be seen by humans, perhaps because they need to be shocked into hearing, he will send an angel. Angels can speak and appear, which helped human listeners like Moses, Gideon, Mary, Zechariah and Cornelius (Exodus 3:2; Judges 6:12; Luke 1:11;2:26; Acts 10:3).

  2. God uses angels to fight against the spiritual powers of evil. The Holy Spirit resists them by speaking, and his divine voice is so compelling that probably only the toughest government-spirits and world controllers would be strong enough to resist. They would whine that it was unfair and breach of their freedom if the Holy Spirit came against them with his full physical power, so God mostly uses angels when he needs to force them to stop doing something (Exodus 23:20; Rev 12:7; Dan 10:13).

  3. The Holy Spirit is always present in all creation, sustaining its existence, so he cannot always deal directly with people and things in the physical world. God seems to use angels for that purpose. Angels wrote the Ten Words on the stone tablets (Gal 3:19). An angel closed the lion’s mouth for Daniel (Dan 6:22). A donkey saw an angel (Num 22:24).

  4. For a similar reason, God often sends angels to strengthen people who are already full of the Spirit. Elijah and Jesus are examples (1 Kings 19:7; Mark 1:13; Luke 22:43).

The scriptures don’t give a complete outline of everything that angels can do for God because we don’t need to know. However, the reasons listed above are sufficient to justify the creation of the angels, despite the harm that some would do by rebelling against God and joining with human rebellion to do evil in the world.