Who Are the Rulers and Authorities in the Heavenly Places and Why Do They Matter?
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 3:10 reveals God's intent to make known his "manifold wisdom" through the church "to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms." What are these rulers and authorities? Why do they matter?
We encountered these powers in chapter 1, where it says that God seated Christ "at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion" (1:20-21). Chapter 2 referred to Satan as "the ruler of the kingdom of the air" (2:2). Later, in Ephesians 6, we'll read about "rulers," "authorities," "powers of this dark world," and "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (6:12). Paul uses this kind of language to refer to what we might identify as demonic powers. Yet, he is not thinking simply of individual demons who harass or possess people. Rather, he envisions the whole cosmos as permeated and influenced by powers that we might call supernatural. Yet, these powers might also include cultural, economic, and political forces, the kinds of forces that shape our lives each day (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 2:8).
At first glance, the belief in cosmic powers might appear to be both old-fashioned and irrelevant. But, the testimony of Scripture and the experiences of millions of Christians throughout the world today bear witness to the reality of "rulers and authorities." Moreover, as we have seen in Ephesians 2, these powers influence our lives. In fact, according to Ephesians 2:6, we have already been raised with Christ and there is a sense in which we already exist with him in the heavenly realms.
Admittedly, this can be rather confusing, perhaps even mind-blowing and deeply unsettling. Yet, the last thing we should be doing as Christians is living in fear of evil cosmic powers. The good news of Ephesians is that Christ is already sovereign over all such powers, that we have been delivered from the domination of these powers through Christ, and that our role as the church is to proclaim to the powers the victory of God in Christ.
I know this can be heady stuff. But it is stuff that expands our horizons. It gives us a deeper, wider, and truer sense of our purpose on earth. Moreover, it prepares us for Paul's further discussion in Ephesians of how we are to do battle with the powers of evil (see 6:10-20). Ephesians 3:10 encourages us to see our lives in light of God's purposes for the whole universe. You and I are part of something big, something really big.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How does this talk of rulers and authorities strike you? Does it seem antique? Naïve? Unnecessary? Or might this conversation make a difference in how you live today?
PRAYER: Gracious God, for some of us, all of this talk of powers and rulers and authorities is perplexing. It's just not the way we tend to think. And it can feel so contrary to our modern, scientific, western ways of seeing the world. Teach us that which we struggle to believe. Help us to see our world and our lives as you see them.
As a member of your church, Lord, may I live today in a way that demonstrates the truth of the gospel, not only to my colleagues, not only to my neighbors, but even to the powers of the cosmos. To you be all the glory. Amen.