An Evil World Ruled by Satan? A Critique of a Popularly Held Myth in Christian Thought

Today I wanted to take a look at a concept that is popularly held by many Evangelical Christians today. It is the dual interrelated belief that Christians should not love this world, and that the devil is actually the god of this world. These beliefs are drawn from two key texts: 1 John 2:15-16 and 2 Corinthians 4:4.

What I’ll do is present to you the reader those two texts and then offer some probing questions to help us get to the bottom of this issue. Let’s get started:

1 John 2:15-16 reads,

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”[1]

Initial probing questions:

Does this text teach Christians to hate the world as in creation or the world as something else? Is the world evil or is it really good? What is meant by the phrases “lust of the flesh,” lust of the eyes” and “boastful pride of life?” Does this mean that all lusting (desires) of the flesh are wrong? Suppose I’m hungry and I lust after a decent meal, perhaps with various treats on the side? Is that “lust of the flesh” bad? In a similar fashion is it wrong to lust after beautiful things, to long to look at the beauty in this world such as a scenic drive through the countryside on a warm summer morn? Or to take in the beauty of my wife from head to toe? Is that sort of “lust of the eyes” evil? What about taking pride in my labors, or in the success of my children, are these the sorts of “pride of life” that the apostle John is warning Christians to steer clear from?

Before we begin to answer those questions, let’s look at the second text.

2 Corinthians 4:4 reads,

“…in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Initial probing questions:

Is the text before us calling the devil god in the same way that God is referred to as God in Scripture? What significance does the “mind of the unbelieving” play in understanding this statement by the apostle Paul? How has the “god of this world… blinded” the minds of such people? How does a proper understanding of Scripture—particularly that which is in the Old Testament—help us in comprehending Paul’s meaning?

Considering Similarities…

At first glance it may appear that these two texts, which do have different contextual concerns in that they are written by different men, for different purposes, to different people, with different immediate needs/concerns, but the two share an underlying theme found in a way of life. John is warning those Christians he is writing to, to stay away from the type of living that dominates the lives of unbelievers. The desires (lusts) that are in the heart of believers vs. non-believers are radically different (cf. Eph 4.17-24). Paul is explaining to Christians why unbeliever’s fail to see the gospel in its proper light—they are blinded? What blinds them? The reign of sin in their hearts. He identifies this reign with a person. The “god of this world” is really an idiom speaking of a particular individual; whom the Scriptures reveal as the devil.

Understanding the Fundamental Presuppositions of the Apostolic Faith

Both Paul and John were Jews. Being Hebrews, their worldview was governed by the Tanakh. This means that they had a particular lens through which they viewed the world around them; including the seen (physical) and unseen (spiritual or immaterial). Both knew that the entire created order was brought into being by God:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and it was very good….” (Gen 1.1, 31).

Knowing God as Creator other truths fell in line. God is King, Sovereign over His creation:

“For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth…For God is king of all the earth…God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne” (Psa 47.2, 7-8; ESV).

And they knew well the declaration that God alone is God, there is no other who is like Him:

“Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me” (Isa 43.10b).

So then, if God alone is God with their being no other, and that He alone is King over the whole earth reigning over all people throughout history, how is it that Paul speaks of another “god of this world” and what of John’s commanding Christians to not love this world’s lusts?

The Diamond Standard

As I have said in the past, words have various shades of meaning. Contextual considerations are what helps us see the proper way in which a word or even a concept is being used by a biblical writer. Errors occur when we import ideas foreign to the text of Scripture and the overriding theology of Scripture. I realize that Christians come from a wide variety of theological convictions. That is not what I’m talking about when I speak of the “overriding theology of Scripture.” The Bible teaches a proper way to view God and His creation. Variances occur in the creatures understanding due to our limited abilities. Scripture teaches one theology; we tend to muck up the pure waters of the Word when our own traditions, biases, assumptions get in the way.

I have come to see biblical truth in the symbolic representation of a diamond. Diamonds are precious stones of much value.[2] A diamond is a solid rock that is strong enough to crush all others.[3] A diamond is also a thing of intense beauty.[4] One of the ways that a diamond’s beauty really resonates with us and catches our attention is when it is shifted ever so slightly in the light.[5] The light makes the diamond sparkle, bring out greater depth and beauty than if we looked at it from only one angle; which, in a sense makes our hearts leap with joy at what we’ve witnessed.[6]

In a similar way, but in a fashion that goes far beyond that of the diamond (a created thing), the truth of God’s Word is of infinite value.[7] It as a vestige of truth that as a solid rock makes the one who builds on it very wise.[8] When viewed properly through the light of the Holy Spirit we see the greater depths and beauty within, our attention is gripped[9], our hearts burn[10], and our minds are changed.[11] While a correct interpretation of Scripture reveals one truth, when we turn that perspective truth over and over, looking at it from a variety of angles, we notice wider applications than previously were noticed.

Shades of meaning

I say all of that to prepare you for something that you may or may not know. The term translated in English as God—(Elohim in Hebrew) and (Theos in Greek)—has a deeper/wider application that we often apply to it. For example, we see the term Elohim being applied to various individuals in the Old Testament (Tanakh), just as we see the term Theos being used similarly.

John 10…

When the Jews of Jesus’ day picked up stones to stone Him, they were about to do so for what they viewed as a clear violation of the Law of God; blasphemy (cf. Lev 24.16). It was not for good works that they wanted to kill Jesus it was because He made Himself equal with God (John 10.33). Jesus rebukes them by pointing out that they are being very inconsistent, since it is “written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’” (John 10.35a). He continues, “If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’” (John 10.35b-36).


Now many Bibles will reference Jesus’ words here back to Psalm 82. I agree that this is probably the chief text in consideration, but it is not the only one where we see God calling those He has established for a specific purpose; god/gods. One other example is found in Exodus where the Lord God labels Moses in a similar fashion. Here are the texts of which I am speaking:

  • “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment…I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the most high, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince (Psa 82.6-7)
  • “He [Aaron, your brother] shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him” (Exod 4.16)
  • “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet’” (Exod 7.1).

So, what do we do with those texts? Well, would could say that they are proof positive that the Scriptures are in contradiction with one another. A skeptic would prefer that position. We could say that we must take them in a wooden literal fashion and say they are “little gods,” but not thee God. Various aberrations of the orthodox Christian faith would prefer that position (e.g., Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons). There is another option, we could define the term “god/gods” within their given context. This would be the wise response.

Thinking through Exodus 4:16 and 7:1…

Since Moses came first, we shall deal with him, and then allow this understanding (the simpler one) to guide our thoughts as we progress through biblical revelation (to some the more difficult passages). When God called Moses god, was He using the term Elohim in the same sense? In other words, was Moses identical to God? No. Moses was not the Creator, but a creature and so this is not the sense in which God is using the term to identify Moses.

Another key are the words “like” and “as” which offers the reader insight into the figurative way in which the Lord is speaking. Moses was made like God. In what way? He was in a position of authority over Aaron, for Aaron only spoke what Moses commanded. He was also in a position of authority over Pharaoh, although the king of Egypt sought to deny it. But every time he did deny Moses rained down plagues of judgment on his head (cf. Exod 4-12). Moses received this position of supremacy from the Lord God. It was given to him; he did not possess it of his own accord. Moses authority was delegated authority to rule in God’s stead, but he was to do it in God’s way.

According to a Hebrew lexicon “Elohim” has several shades of meaning.[12] The sense that it is being used in this passage, and as I will show in a moment the passage in the 82nd Psalm, is that of a supreme ruler and/or magistrate. As I said earlier, the position that Moses finds himself is one of delegated authority. God gave Moses the right to rule in His stead, before the people.

Considering Psalm 82…

Look back at the 82nd Psalm. Read through it. What do you see? Did you notice that the subjects in question fit within the context of human rulers/judges/magistrates? You ask, “How do you know that?” Look at verses 2-4. God says to these “gods,”

“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” (Psa 82.2).

    • Rather than vindicating “the weak and the fatherless” (v. 3a);
    • rather than giving “justice to the afflicted and destitute” (v. 3b);
    • rather than rescuing “the weak and the needy” (v. 4a);
    • rather than delivering “them out of the hand the wicked” (v.4b), these “gods” (supreme rulers/magistrates/judges) refused to do what was right in God’s sight.

God put them in positions of authority to uphold His Law-Word and they refused. And so, God (identified as “judge of the earth”) was arising to judge them, for he alone is God—sovereign over “all the nations” (Psa 82.8).  The declaration by the Lord that they would die “like men” could also be translated “like Adam” since the term is singular and is the same from where we derive the translation of Adam (see Gen 2.20; 3.17). The point is that they would be struck down from their station, because like Adam before them they chose their own standard of righteousness and ruled the people wickedly.

Looking back at 1 John 2.15-16…

The problem that John identifies with the world is not the world in and of itself (i.e., the created order). The problem with the world is the attitude of sin that dominates it. The lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life are deviations from God’s holy purpose. They refer to man’s sinful pursuits. Rather than follow the lead of God they follow another. Rather than submit to the rule of God, they bow before another.

We should love the world and the things in it (i.e., God’s creation, His creatures). We should have a proper form of desire, one that desires not the natural man’s perversion of goodness, but one that reflects the Creators heart. If you are not convinced, I only remind you that the Savior sacrificed Himself because He loved the world (John 3.16). Not just His people whom He been sent to redeem, but also the very creation itself that travails in distress under the corruption of sin (Rom 8.19-21).

Looking back at 2 Corinthians 4:4…

When Paul says that the gospel of Jesus is veiled (hidden due to blindness) to those who are perishing and then he points to the “god of this world,” he is not saying that Satan/the Devil is actually a god in the same sense that God is God. He is speaking of the ruler of natural men’s hearts (cf. Eph 2.2). He is referring to the one who rules this world through sin. Not the entirety of creation, but fallen mankind (male and female).

Don’t believe me? Think I’m wrong? Then weigh my words in light of Christ Jesus’ own testimony as recorded in John’s gospel:

  • “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12.31)
  • “I [Jesus] will not speak much more with you [My disciples], for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in me” (John 14.30).
  • “And He [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16.8, 11).[13]

The devil is nothing more than a despot. A tyrant that deceives sinners into believing that they are free, all the while they are in chains. However, the purpose of Christ Jesus’ coming into the world was to destroy the devil’s works, to break his grip, to bring him low in destruction (cf. 1 John 3.8). Satan has no power over the elect of God, for in resisting him he flees (James 4.7). His authority has been usurped and this is evidenced in the world under the dominion of Christ’s disciples (Luke 10.18). For Jesus has given His people power over serpents and scorpions—i.e., the curse and the cursor (Luke 10.19). And as the gospel of Jesus advances, God gives His people victory in the world—because it is His world and no others—to smite the devil (Rom 16.20; cf. 1 John 4.4).

Closing Remarks…

These words were meant to be a corrective to those who are fearful that the devil has power where he does not. That he rules over this entire planet when he does not. He is a creature and like all creatures He is subservient to the God of Glory.

This teaching is also meant to be an encouragement. We are living in some difficult times when despots and tyrants are unashamedly showing their faces. Panic and fear are driving the hearts of many, but in Christ Jesus there is nothing to fear. We have nothing to panic over, for all that comes to pass comes to pass under His watch. He is not weak and His strength is given to those who trust in Him.

Therefore, don’t let news and events break your resolve. Nor would I waste a moment’s breath giving glory to Satan as if he is really more than what he is…a vagabond living on borrowed time with a mortal injury. His days are numbered. He knows it, and so should we as we rejoice in his inevitable demise.



[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New American Standard 95’ Update (NASB).

[2] See Isa 28:16; also 1Pet 2:4.

[3] See Matt 21:44; also Dan 2:34-35, 44-45; Psa 110:5-6.

[4] See Psa 27:4; also Isa 28:5

[5] “For with you [O Lord] is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Psa 36.9). Also see: John 8:12; 2 Cor 4:6; James 1:17.

[6] See Mal 4:2

[7] Prov 2:1-6; also see: Matt 13:44.

[8] Ff. Matt 7:24; also see: 1 Cor 3:11.

[9] Psa 1:2.

[10] Luke 24:32.

[11] Rom 12:2.

[12] “rulers, judges, either as divine representatives at sacred places or as reflecting divine majesty and power.” Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Drivers-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers, Reprint 1906 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 43. S.v. Elohim, 1a.

[13] Italics added for emphasis and brackets added for clarity.