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Please explain: Why does the Bible call Satan “the god of this age”?

Why does the Bible call Satan “the god of this age”?

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

“The god of this age”—what a terrifying name to give Satan! It almost seems like blasphemy! There is only one God, and Satan is not him. Satan is not all-powerful. He’s certainly not all-wise, loving, or any of the other attributes the Bible ascribes to our Maker. Why, then, does Paul call the devil by that name?

A hidden vs. revealed God

That’s a hard question to answer. Hard because it prompts further questions like “Why does God allow evil to exist at all in the world?” or “Why do some believe the gospel (which Paul calls God’s power for saving people) but not others?”

Questions like these demonstrate the limits of our earthbound, sinful minds and our human ability to figure things out with our reason. We can ask these questions, but God doesn’t promise to give us answers that will necessarily satisfy. That’s because God is bigger than our human minds can grasp.

Luther used to speak about two ways of thinking about God: There’s the God who hides himself (or as Paul puts it in 1 Timothy 6:16, “who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see”) and the God who reveals himself in Christ (as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians).

The hidden God is beyond us. If we try to figure him out—to work out all the whys and wherefores—we can only fail and fall into sin. Looking toward the revealed God may not answer every curious question we have, but it does open up to us God’s innermost heart. We look into the face of Jesus, and we are dazzled by the light of God’s love, a light shining out of darkness. We see the face of our suffering Savior, and we glimpse the everlasting glory of God’s mercy and grace.

Satan’s power in this age

Bearing this in mind, we are in a better position to grasp Paul’s meaning here. When he calls Satan “the god of this age,” Paul has a particular idea in mind. Ever since Adam’s fall, this world has been a place of sin and death (Romans 5:12). It is an age of darkness and ruin in which our battle is not just against flesh-and-blood human beings but against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

In this age, God allows the devil to roam the earth and ravage humanity with evils of every imaginable kind (1 Peter 5:8,9; Job 1:7). This restless spirit is the great tempter who tempts us into sin and the accuser who afterward fills us with anxiety and guilt (Matthew 4:3; Revelation 12:10).

In 2 Corinthians, the devil is described as “blind[ing] the minds of unbelievers . . . to the light of the gospel” (4:4). If I can paraphrase Paul here, I might put it this way: “Don’t be surprised if some are deaf to the voice of God in the gospel or blind to the bright glory of Christ. We know, in the first place, that unbelief is natural for those born in an age of sin and death. But there’s even more going on here. There’s a supernatural cause as well for unbelief. It is the unremitting enmity of the devil, who seeks to frustrate God’s good purpose and keep people from seeing Jesus’ love. The god of this world is exercising an uncanny control over hearts and minds to keep people in their unbelief. This is how it is in this dying age before our Savior comes again in glory.”

Here’s where the curious questions come. “Why does God permit the devil to exercise such power? Why doesn’t he stop all evil now?” The answers to those questions belong to the hidden God. If we try to approach him where he dwells in unapproachable light, the blinding radiance of God’s hidden glory will overwhelm and destroy us. We simply cannot bear the sight before which even angels have to hide their faces (Isaiah chapter 6).

But we can look at Jesus. In the face of Jesus, the image of God, we see God’s glory reflected in a way that we can bear. His face is aglow with a brilliant love that shines from deep inside God’s heart: a love that shines not on the worthy and the good (because who is good except God?) but on the outcast, the sinner—yes, the whole ungodly world in revolt against him (John 3:16; Romans 5:6-8).

In his love, our Savior also assures us in his Word that the devil is not a power that is in any way equal to the true God. The outcome of this battle is not at all uncertain. The devil remains on God’s leash (Job 1:12; Revelation 20:1,2). God sets a limit to the tempter’s work: He cannot test us beyond our ability to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). God will turn all evil to good and in all things work for our good (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). The gates of hell cannot overcome his church (Matthew 16:18).

Lessons to learn

The takeaways for you and me?

Don’t be surprised at the ongoing, uncanny power of sin and unbelief. There’s something more going on than just the sinful nature at work or the person without the Spirit’s natural resistance to the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:14). There’s also the endless enmity of the god of this age blinding people so that they can’t see the glory of Jesus’ love. The devil hates you and wants to draw you into his darkness.

“The god of this age”—what a terrifying name to give Satan! It almost seems like blasphemy! There is only one God, and Satan is not him.

This is a warning for us too, since sometimes even Christians play at the thought of giving in to sin “just a little.” We can fool ourselves into believing that we have it all under control. Not so! Paul warns. The uncanny power of sin is such that it soon pulls you in deeper and deeper. It controls you rather than you controlling it. In fact, there is a malicious mind, a supernatural power at work, Paul says, whose strength is far beyond your ability to manage.

Finally, when you are weary of the gloom, straining your eyes to see the dawn of the new age, stop staring into the darkness. After a while, it’ll start to stare back. Fix your eyes on God where he reveals himself, where he has opened to us his innermost mind and heart. Look at the face of Jesus and see God’s love shining.

Author: Paul Wendland
Volume 111, Number 02
Issue: February 2024

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This entry is part 1 of 54 in the series please explain

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