Now in 2022, the war in Ukraine brings violent evil to the fore once again and threatens to reshape our global future in ways we can only imagine.
Human selfishness and greed are among the sins that spawn wars: “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?” (James 4:1, NASB). Collectively, however, the scale of human suffering at the hands of others also seems to presume a dimension of cosmic evil that defies even our recognition of human depravity.
There are reasons for that. The Book of Daniel speaks not just of a succession of world empires but of the spiritual forces behind them. The angelic prince of Persia delayed an answer to Daniel’s prayers until Michael, Israel’s prince, intervened; the angelic prince of Alexander’s empire would follow (Dan. 10:13, 20–21; 12:1). God had sovereignly allotted times in history for various angels and their empires, but his angelic and human servants continued to work for his purposes until he caused them to prevail.
The Greek translation of Deuteronomy mentions that God appointed angels over the various nations, and Jewish thought increasingly recognized such heavenly rulers and authorities—what later rabbis called angels over the nations. These beings were typically hostile toward God’s people, but in the end, God would give the kingdom to his persevering people.
Because our king, Jesus, has already come, Satan has been defeated. His exaltation corresponds with the angel Michael’s heavenly triumph over the dragon (Rev. 12:7–8).
In explaining this story, scholars often invoke the World War II analogy between D-Day and V-Day. In D-Day, the success of the Normandy invasion decided the outcome of the war, and the defeat of the Nazi regime and its allies was merely a matter of time. Yet until V-Day—the final surrender of the Axis powers—battles continued and casualties mounted.
In the same way, all enemies—including the final one, death itself—will be subdued when Jesus returns (Ps. 110:1; 1 Cor. 15:25–26), but his servants face continuing battles until then.
In Ephesians, Paul emphasizes that Jesus is already enthroned above heavenly rulers and authorities (Eph. 1:20–22) and we are spiritually enthroned with him (Eph. 1:22-23; 2:6). In a letter that heavily underscores the unity between Jews and Gentiles in Christ’s body, this enthronement above angels of nations and empires means that our unity in Christ is greater than all the ethnic and national divisions fomented by such angels. Believers are no longer subject to the prince of this world (Eph. 2:1–3).
For Paul, this triumph over divisions has spiritual warfare ramifications, even for the interpersonal dimensions of our lives. In Ephesians 4, for example, denying the devil an opportunity means having integrity and controlling our anger (Eph. 4:25–27). In Ephesians 6:10–20, it means taking hold of the defensive armour of truth, faith, and righteousness, plus a weapon for invading hostile territory: the mission of the gospel.
The upside is that by faith we look forward to our Lord’s final victory over the world conflicts spawned by evil:
He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)
“. . .in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” — Daniel 2:44 KJV
“Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” — 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18 ESV